IPMA-HR joined with seven other state and local government associations in filing an amicus curiae brief in the case of Heffernan v. City of Paterson, New Jersey, which is pending before the United States Supreme Court. The brief argues that a government employer’s perception that an employee has exercised his or her First Amendment rights cannot be the basis for a First Amendment retaliation lawsuit.
Officer Heffernan was assigned to a detail in the Office of the Chief of Police. He was reassigned after he was seen picking up a campaign sign for the current mayor’s opponent. Officer Heffernan maintains that he was in no way involved with the mayor’s race. The sign wasn’t for himself; it was for his bedridden mother. Officer Heffernan claims he was retaliated against based on the City’s perception that he was exercising his First Amendment free association rights.
The amicus brief argues that the U.S. Supreme Court need not find a constitutional claim exists when an employer misperceives that an employee has engaged in political speech. Collective bargaining statutes, “just cause” protections, civil service statutes, and statutes protecting against interference or attempts to interfere with any individual’s civil rights would prevent a state or local government employer from lawfully taking an adverse employment action in such circumstances.
Oral arguments in this case will be held January 19, 2016.