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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Circuit Tosses Due-Process Claim Over Court Firing

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A Pennsylvania judge did not violate the civil rights of a court employee by firing her for complaining about the probation department where she worked, the 3rd Circuit ruled.

Rita Miller wrote a letter to Judge Richard Saxton, expressing her dissatisfaction with her supervisors in the adult probation office.

She told the judge that one supervisor believes that probationers are "scum" and suspended Miller as a result of their delinquent restitution payments, and another subjected her to "intimidation" and hostility throughout her employment.

As soon as Saxton received this letter, he fired Miller. She sued for violations of her First Amendment rights to free speech and her 14th Amendment rights to due process.

The three-judge panel ruled that the district court should have granted summary judgment to Judge Saxton.

"Although a small portion of the letter touches upon a matter of public concern," McKee wrote, "the context in which the statement occurs establishes that the speech is not protected."

Writing for the majority, Judge McKee also ruled that the district court should have dismissed Miller's due process claim, because she was an at-will employee and did not have a property interest in her job.

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