Articles Posted in Civil Rights

Employees facing discrimination in the workplace must usually rely on statutes to sue their employers. Governments, however, must operate within the boundaries of the Constitution, including when the government acts as an employer. So, employees who work for a government, such as a state, town, city, or special district, may be able to bring legal claims against their employer when the government violates the employees’ Constitutional rights. Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses a recent appellate court decision in New York which raises the bar for employment related claims against municipalities.

Elizabeth Naumovski worked for SUNY Binghamton as an assistant basketball coach. Soon after she started working, rumors circulated that Naumovski was having an “inappropriate relationship” with “J.W.,” a gay female-student athlete.  The rumors continued into the next academic year, so the school responded by imposing restrictions on interactions between students and coaches.

Yet, the rumors allegedly continued to persist into the next year. In early February 2010, the defendant head coach and athletic director spoke by phone and agreed to terminate Naumovski, allegedly because Naumovski demonstrated favoritism to some students.

No constitutional right is absolute. In the context of the First Amendment and free speech, the law regulates speech which defames another person. On Tuesday, August 6, 2019, in Palin v. The New York Times Company, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided a case involving the intersection of politics, gun violence, and free speech. The decision is ultimately a ruling about a question of procedure, but the facts and circumstances which led to the decision are relevant in today’s political climate, and the procedural issue is relevant to those litigating civil cases in New York’s federal courts. Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times.

On January 8, 2011, Jared Loughner killed six people and injured thirteen others while opening fire at a political rally for Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona. Giffords was seriously wounded during the attack. Before the attack, Sarah Palin’s political action committee, “SarahPAC,” produced a map that displayed images of a crosshairs target over specific Democratic congressional districts. For some, this evoked images of violence.

Among those pictured on the map was Congresswoman Giffords’ district. Though the map had been publicized during the earlier political controversy surrounding the Affordable Act, in the wake of the Loughner shooting, speculation swirled that the shooting was connected to the crosshairs map.

On June 4, 2018, we blogged about a federal lawsuit concerning whether President Trump’s Twitter account invokes First Amendment concerns. We wrote about a federal District Judge’s decision in the lawsuit which held that the President’s twitter account is a public forum subject to First Amendment protections. Today, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the District Court’s decision. What did the appeals court rule? Today’s civil rights blog discusses the decision.

In Knight Institute v. Trump, a group of individuals sued President Trump. The individuals criticized the President on Twitter, then they were blocked from the President’s personal Twitter account. The individuals alleged that the President’s actions constituted a violation of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees. The Southern District of New York agreed.

On appeal, the Second Circuit considered whether President Trump’s use of Twitter’s blocking function constituted conduct in violation of the First Amendment. The government argued that the Presidents use of his personal Twitter account (@realDonaldTrump), is private conduct. Private conduct is not regulated by the First Amendment whereas government conduct is. Indeed, the government noted that the President established his Twitter account in 2009, long before he became president.

Courts have long recognized a constitutional right to intimate association. Intimate association protects close family relationships from undue interference from the government.  Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses some of the contours of these claims and a recent appellate court decision concerning intimate association under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Close family relationships enjoy constitutional protections. In fact, courts have determined that two amendments protect individuals’ rights to enter into and enjoy close personal relationships. The First Amendment was determined to protect close family relationships in 1999 by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. The First Amendment prohibits the government from intruding into a familial relationship as retaliation for one family member’s exercise of free speech rights.

The relationship at issue must be very close. For instance, a husband and wife, parent and child, and brother and sister (or other siblings), have all been determined to be close enough so as to constitute a constitutionally protected familial relationship. Two longtime childhood friends, however, are not constitutionally protected as an intimate association, even if those friends consider themselves so close as to constitute a de facto family.

The First Amendment’s freedom of speech guarantee remains a hot topic in the courts. The First Amendment lawyers at Famighetti & Weinick PLLC handle First Amendment cases ranging from employment retaliation to retaliation against private citizens. Today’s Long Island civil rights blog discusses retaliatory arrests and the effects of government officials censoring speech.

The Constitution has limits. The First Amendment is not unlimited and neither is the Fourth Amendment. For instance, the Fourth Amendment places limits on a police officer’s arrest power. Specifically, the Fourth Amendment requires police officers to have probable cause before making an arrest, meaning a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed. Otherwise, the arrest is unlawful. Establishing probable cause, however, is easy and police officers are given a significant amount of discretion and deference when it comes to arrests.

On June 18, 2018 in Lozman v. Riviera Beach, the question before the U.S. Supreme Court was whether the existence of probable cause prevented an individual from suing for retaliatory arrest.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects, among other rights, the freedom of speech.  An unsettled area of employment law in New York has been the question of how much protection does the First Amendment provide to public sector employees like police officers.  Today’s Long Island employment law blog discusses a recent case involving a police officer’s union activity and First Amendment retaliation.  Continue reading

On April 25, 2018, Long Island civil rights lawyer Matthew Weinick led a discussion about First and Second Amendment rights at a meeting of the League of Women Voters.  The meeting, held at the Levittown Library, was well attended by both organization members and the general public.

According to its website, the League of Women Voters is a “grassroots organization.”  Earlier this year, the group contacted the Nassau County Bar Association looking for a volunteer lawyer to speak about civil rights.  Civil rights lawyer and bar association member Matthew Weinick responded to the request and the discussion was scheduled.

At the meeting, Weinick discussed First Amendment and Second Amendment rights.  Weinick tried to keep these hot button issues away from politics and spoke about these rights from a legal viewpoint, discussing the way courts have interpreted the amendments.  Weinick used recent court decisions relating to sexual orientation discrimination and gun regulation to show how courts interpret the Constitution.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects several rights, including the freedom of speech.  Indeed, the text of the Amendment reads “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.”  Like most Constitutional rights, the freedom of speech is not limitless and the level of Constitutional protection speech may be afforded depends, sometimes, on where the speech is made. Courts have interpreted the freedom of speech to apply to a variety of forums, including books, public streets, and, in some cases, public buildings.  Today’s civil rights blog discusses the collision between a centuries old document and 21st century technology – twitter.

Public Forums vs. Non-Public Forums

Throughout the course of U.S. history, the country’s courts have been called upon to interpret the meaning of the Constitution and its Amendments.  As First Amendment law has developed, it’s become understood that public spaces can fall into one of three types of forums — a public forum, a public forum by designation, and a non-public forum.  The level of First Amendment rights a person has in a public space is dependent on which of these types of forum the public space is classified as.

In 2009, the Town of Oyster Bay in New York passed a law prohibiting people from soliciting employment along roadways within the Town.  Two public interest groups sued the Town alleging that the law violated the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.  On August 22, 2017, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s determination that the law violates the First Amendment.  Today’s New York civil rights blog discusses the case Centro de la Comunidad Hispana de Locust Valley v. Oyster Bay.

First Amendment Free Speech

The First Amendment prohibits the government from passing laws which restrict speech based on the content of the speech.  For example, a law which generally allows picketing unless the picketing is aimed at a particular type of labor dispute has been declared unconstitutional.  In Centro, the Second Circuit found that Oyster Bay’s law unlawfully regulated content based speech because the government would have to assess what the speaker was saying to determine whether the person was violating the law.  In other words, as described by the Court, Oyster Bay would have to look at whether the person was stopping vehicles and saying “hire me” verse “tell me the time.”  Thus, the Court had no problem finding that Oyster Bay’s law restricted content-based speech.

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