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Free-Speech Case Before Justices Draws Interest of Teacher Unions

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Washington--A lawsuit involving a public employee's right to elicit the opinions of co-workers in attempting to establish an employee-grievance procedure was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court last week.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the claim by a former assistant district attorney in Orleans Parish, La., that she was fired after distributing a questionnaire asking her co-workers their opinions regarding the fairness of personnel procedures in the district attorney's office.

Free Speech Violated

The employee's claim--that her First Amendment right to free speech was violated when she was fired--was upheld by a federal district court and by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The appeal to the Supreme Court in the case, Connick v. Myers, was filed by the Orleans Parish district attorney.

Gary Sasso, an attorney representing the teachers' unions, said the groups' interest in the case is based on the belief that the employee's "activity was quintessentially labor-oriented activity. This case implicates the First Amendment rights of public employees, specifically in the context of employment-related matters."

In other activity last week, the Court:

Agreed to hear the Puerto Rico Department of Education's appeal of a decision that granted employees an extended period for filing lawsuits alleging discrimination on the basis of political affiliation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit interpreted Puerto Rico law as permitting an extension of a one-year statute of limitations for 36 employees who were reassigned to lower-ranking positions by the education agency. The case is Chardon v. Soto.

Denied a petition by a former substitute teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, who claimed he had been denied due process when district officials did not grant him probationary status as a full-time teacher. A federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the school district's claim that California law does not require due-process hearings before decisions regarding substitute teachers are made. The case is Calvo v. Los Angeles Unified School District.--ew

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