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Court recognizes First Amendment protections for public employee testimony

NEA member’s case is ‘an important step in ensuring free speech rights’ for public employees

Washington, D.C. - June 19, 2014 -

The Supreme Court today issued a unanimous decision in Lane v. Franks, concerning whether the First Amendment protects a public employee’s grand jury and criminal trial testimony regarding fraud and misuse of public funds in a community college program. NEA member Edward Lane was running a Central Alabama Community College program for at-risk youth when he discovered a state legislator on his payroll—a woman who never actually showed up to work—and so he fired her. And later, when he was subpoenaed to testify about that experience at the legislator’s corruption trial, he did so—and did so truthfully.

After the trial, however, Lane was fired for his truthful testimony. The Alabama Education Association, NEA’s state affiliate, litigated Mr. Lane’s case in district court and the National Education Association joined with AEA to represent him on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit. The Goldstein & Russell firm handled the case in the Supreme Court with NEA filing an amicus brief in the case, arguing for a broader rule that all testimony should be protected—whether connected to job duties or not.

The following statement can be attributed to NEA President Dennis Van Roekel:

“In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court took an important step in ensuring the free speech rights of public employees by concluding that Edward Lane’s testimony was speech as a citizen on a matter of public concern. We are pleased that the Court has recognized that public employees are indeed protected by the First Amendment when they testify. Today’s decision will protect public employees from job retaliation when they testify in court about public corruption.

“We are disappointed the Court did not go further to establish a clear rule that sworn testimony by public employees should never be the basis for any retaliatory action by a public employer. The Court’s decision was too narrow. Public employees who have the courage to stand up and speak out to improve public services and prevent corruption should be protected from retaliation.

“As teachers and other education professionals, our members often must speak up on behalf of their students to ensure that their needs are being met, and that their students are being provided with all the resources to which they are entitled and need to succeed. When they do so, their speech and actions should be protected. The National Education Association is proud of our member, Edward Lane, and we stand with him in his fight for free speech for all public employees.”

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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing
more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

CONTACT: Staci Maiers, NEA
(202) 270-5333 cell,