By Ryan P. Sink, Fox Williams & Sink LLC
On February 17, 2017, the Seventh Circuit in Roake v. Forest Preserve District of Cook County, et al, affirmed dismissal of a police officer’s claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. With the permission of his Sergeant, Roake brought a bottle of champagne to work, while he was off-duty, on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2013. Subsequently, the Sergeant was terminated, the other officers who drank alcohol were issued written discipline, and Roake resigned with the impression that he would inevitably be terminated.
Roake argued that he was constructively discharged because he previously reported police misconduct, which he maintained was protected activity under the First Amendment. However, in affirming dismissal, the Seventh Circuit held that as a police officer, Roake had a duty to report police misconduct by his fellow officers, and as such his complaints were not made as a citizen, but rather as an employee. “As a police officer, Roake had a duty to protect the public from harm, including harm resulting from illegal activity by law enforcement. So when Roake internally reported that this fellow officers were abusing the public trust by acting illegally on the job, he was speaking as a public employee pursuant to his official responsibilities, and not ‘as a citizen contributing to the civic discourse.’” Under Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), because Roake spoke as an employee and not as a private citizen, his speech was not protected under the First Amendment.
Roake also alleged that his liberty interest under the Fourteenth Amendment was infringed because his employer soiled his reputation to other prospective employers. The Seventh Circuit explained that the liberty interest reputational harm standard requires “stigma-plus,” meaning “to state a due process claim based on reputational harm, a plaintiff must show that the government distinctly altered his legal status in addition to tarnishing his good name.” Here, Roake did not allege any facts to show that his legal status was altered, in particular because he resigned his employment.
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