Former town employee, a customer-service representative in clerk-treasurer’s office, brought § 1983 action against town and clerk-treasurer alleging retaliation in violation of First Amendment right to free speech arising from employee’s termination five months after she criticized clerk-treasurer for reconnecting utility service of a wealthy delinquent customer.
The United States District Court granted summary judgment for town and clerk-treasurer. Former employee appealed.
The Court of Appeals held that:
- Employee’s criticism of clerk-treasurer was not protected speech;
- Gap of five months between employee’s criticism and her firing was too great to support an inference of retaliatory motive; and
- Purportedly shifting explanations for the firing did not establish retaliatory motive.
Town employee’s criticism of elected town clerk-treasurer for reconnecting utility service of a wealthy delinquent customer amounted to a complaint about possible misconduct in employee’s official area of responsibility, and thus the criticism was not constitutionally protected speech, where employee’s job duties as customer-service representative in clerk-treasurer’s office included handling utility disconnections, despite argument that it was not employee’s job as a low-level employee to confront a high-ranking elected official about questions of policy.