Facts of the Case: The Appellant Miriam Leverington, a nurse at Memorial Hospital (Appellee 1) in Colorado Springs, was pulled over in December of 2008 by Officer Duaine Peters (Appellee 2). During the course of the stop Leverington told the police officer that she hoped he was never her patient. Officer Peters replied, “I hope not too, because maybe I’ll call your supervisor and tell her you threatened me. ” The Police officer did in fact, within 5 days after the incident, report Leverington’s comment to Memorial Hospital.
Memorial Hospital took disciplinary action against her for making the comment to the officer. They disciplined her by terminating Leverington from her job as a cardiac nurse there. Leverington sued the City (Memorial) and Officer Peters for violating her rights to free speech. Leverington claimed that the officer had been rude and that she was just trying to communicate she hoped that she never had to interact with him again.
Lower courts dismissed her case stating that her first amendment rights had not been violated. The decision went to appeals. The Question Before the Court: In the Leverington case the issues were, 1) whether getting fired from her job at Memorial Hospital for her comment to the police officer violated her first amendment right to free speech, and 2) whether Officer Peters had violated her rights by retaliating against her by telling her employer which in turn makes the officer liable for her termination.
The Holding: The court ruled that 1) Miriam Leverington’s comments to the police officer were not protected speech therefore her first amendment rights were not violated when the hospital fired her, and that 2) Officer Peters cannot be considered liable for the appellant’s termination. The Reasoning Behind the Court’s Decision: The first question before the court on whether Leverington’s speech was protected was found to be not protected because it failed the Pickering test. There are several parts to the Pickering test; 1. Is the speech on a matter of public concern . Is the government’s interest in promoting efficiency in public service above the employee’s right to free speech? 3. Was the protected speech the cause of the adverse decision? 4. Would the employer have made the same decision without taking in to account the protected speech? Leverington’s comments were not ruled to be public concern when the court got to the second prong of the test. The court found that the comments weren’t of public concern because they dealt with personal grievances she was having with the police officer.
Because that prong was not satisfied no other prongs of the test were needed to be considered and it was found that her speech wasn’t protected. Since her speech was not protected no first amendment rights had been violated when she was terminated from her position at Memorial for her conduct with the police officer. The second question before the court on whether Officer Peters was liable for Leverington’s termination was dismissed using the Worrell Test. The Worrell Test is a three prong test; 1. The activity was a constitutionally protected activity; 2. The actions of the Appellee caused the appellant to suffer an injury . The appellee’s adverse action was substantially motivated as a response to the Appellant’s use of constitutionally protected conduct. The court found that if in fact her speech was not protected by the first amendment then she wasn’t engaging in a constitutionally protected activity therefore she does not meet the standards of the Worrell test. Concurring Opinion: Justice Harris Hartz, agreed with all of lower court Judge Ebel’s opinions except for one. He agreed that Ms. Leverington’s speech was not a matter of public concern and that Officer Peters could not be held accountable for her termination from Memorial.
Justice Harris Hartz did not agree that the first amendment doesn’t protect against the retaliation of a public employee, and also the justice believes that Officer Peter’s actions did cause Leverington’s termination. However, overall, Justice Harris Hartz holds the lower court’s decision to drop Ms. Leverington’s case against the City (Memorial) and against Officer Peters. Significance/Rule of Law: Even if speech is spoken outside of your place of employment during your own time does not mean it is completely protected from disciplinary action taken by your employer.