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Court Reverses Ruling on Administrator's Speech

January 29, 2018

A former West Chester University administrator's complaints about the public university's budgeting practices did not qualify as protected speech because the comments came during the normal course of her job, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said in a ruling Friday.

Colleen Bradley's lawsuit alleging that a senior administrator at the university had retaliated against her was rejected by a lower federal court last spring; the judge ruled that the administrator had immunity as a state official. But the lower court judge had ruled that Bradley's speech met the Supreme Court's definition of protected speech under its 2006 ruling in Garcetti v. Ceballos.

In hearing Bradley's appeal of the case, though, a panel of the Third Circuit upheld the lower court's dismissal of Bradley's lawsuit, but challenged its holding on the protected nature of her speech. As director of budget and planning at West Chester, part of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Bradley had on two separate occasions taken issue in campus meetings with decisions her boss had made about approaches to budgeting, leading to the nonrenewal of her contract.

The Third Circuit panel ruled that because her speech was made "pursuant to her official duties," it was not made in her capacity as a citizen and therefore was not constitutionally protected.


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