May 14, 2014 4th Circuit published opinion

Smith v Gilchrist

Smith gave an interview about his concerns that a defensive driver class was being poorly run and could lead participants to unwisely use a deferred judgment. Gilchrist discussed the interview with him and fired him citing a refusal to identify District Attorney office policy he disagreed with. Smith sued for violation of his free speech rights. The district court granted summary judgment to Gilchrist on qualified immunity grounds ruling his interest in office efficiency outweighed Smith’s right to speak on an issue of public interest. The panel reversed and remanded for trial. It held that there was no government interest here as the class was run by a third party and there was no evidence that the statements in the interview would undermine office efficiency. The panel rejected Gilchrist’s argument that the balancing test involved here is subtle as here there was no government interest to balance against Smith’s rights and thus qualified immunity was not available to Gilchrist.

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