(CN) – A law librarian’s free-speech rights weren’t violated when he was fired for blasting his superiors’ alleged “disgusting, degrading, and utterly unprofessional” conduct in an email, a California appeals court ruled.
Michael Kaye accepted an invitation to serve on a panel at a conference on self-represented litigants sponsored by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC).
He later turned down the invitation after his supervisor, Joan Allen-Hart, questioned why she wasn’t informed of his decision while she was on sick leave.
Kaye then responded to Allen-Hart’s request for project ideas with an email expressing his opinion that the library’s management considers its librarians to be “disposable peons who are not genuinely valued.”
He went on to address the inquiry into his decision to participate in the conference, accusing Allen-Hart and her supervisor, Robert Riger, of conduct that was “disgusting, degrading, and utterly unprofessional.”
Kaye also questioned whether Riger was even qualified to attend the conference, and said Riger would violate the False Claims Act if he asks the AOC to reimburse his expenses.
Riger fired Kaye, who countered with a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the San Diego County Law Library and its trustees.
The trial court upheld the library’s decision to fire Kaye, and the 4th District Court of Appeal agreed that the library did not violate his free-speech rights.
Justice McConnell cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2006 opinion in Garcetti v. Ceballos, which states: “Restricting speech that owes its existence to a public employee’s professional responsibilities does not infringe any liberties the employee might have enjoyed as a private citizen.”
“Kaye concedes his case fails if Garcetti applies to it; however, he contends Garcetti does not apply to violations of the state Constitution’s free speech clause,” McConnell wrote. “We conclude there is no merit in this contention.”