Monday, April 23, 2007

Fourth Circuit grants qualified immunity in First Amendment case

In Campbell v. Stanley, Amy Campbell sued the town of Southern Pines, North Carolina, and certain individual defendants after she was fired from her job as a police officer. The main issue decided by the panel was whether the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity on the First Amendment claim in which Campbell alleged she was fired for a memo raising grave matters of public concern and outlining sexual harassment. The panel held that the officers were entitles to qualified immunity, but disagreed with defendants that a personal complaint about discrimination affecting only the complaining employee can never amount to an issue of public concern. The panel feared that such a standard could improperly limit the range of speech that is protected by the First Amendment. Accordingly, the panel held that "complaints of sexual harassment are not per se matters of public concern; whether such complaints are in any given case depends on the content, form and context of the complaint."

Although the matters raised were issues of public concern, the Court granted the defendants qualified immunity: "Because the facts of this case are close enough to the ill defined line between private speech and speech involving matters of public concern, we cannot hold the defendants responsible for their reasonable but incorrect guess about how the law would apply to the facts of this case. "

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