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Dahlia v. Rodriguez

Close Date: 02/24/2014
Topic(s): First Amendment
Workers' Rights
Docket: 13-620

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After Burbank police officer Angelo Dahlia reported that his fellow officers were threatening, beating, and choking suspects, and that this conduct was condoned by the Chief of Police, Dahlia was threatened with arrest and bodily injury by his fellow officers. Ultimately, he was suspended and lost pay and promotional opportunities. Dahlia sued under the First Amendment for retaliation against him for his speech. The district court dismissed the case, and the court of appeals affirmed on the ground that speech by an officer reporting misconduct is part of his job and, therefore, unprotected under the First Amendment. In August 2012, Public Citizen became involved, acting as co-counsel on a petition for rehearing. The petition argued that the panel opinion erred in analyzing an officer’s job duties using a categorical approach inconsistent with prior precedent and reaching a result that deters whistleblowers from disclosing official misconduct and abuse. After rehearing the case in March 2013, a panel of eleven circuit judges reversed the court’s prior decision and reinstated Dahlia’s case in August 2013. Adopting arguments advanced by Public Citizen, the court held that whether a public employee’s speech is protected by the First Amendment requires a practical, fact-based analysis. Applying that test, the court held that Dahlia had successfully alleged retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights. The court therefore reversed the district court’s dismissal of the case. In the fall of 2013, the City of Burbank petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case, and Public Citizen and co-counsel filed the brief in opposition on Dahlia’s behalf. On February 24, 2014, the Court denied review.