As many lawyers practicing on behalf of wrongfully terminated employees know, the United States Constitution prohibits a government employer from discharging or demoting an employee when he or she speaks out on a matter of public concern. Waters v. Churchill, 511 U.S. 661 (1994) (citations omitted). In April of this year, the United States Supreme Court expanded that cause of action just a tad more in a novel case captioned Heffernan v. City of Paterson, 136 S. Ct. 1412 (2016).
In that case, Heffernan was a police officer working in the chief of police’s office in Paterson, New Jersey. Both the chief of police and Heffernan’s direct supervisor had been appointed by Paterson’s incumbent mayor, who was running in an election against Lawrence Spagnola, who, low and behold, happened to be a friend of Heffernan’s family. Despite his connection to Spagnola, Heffernan did not support and was not involved in the Spagnola campaign.