In a case with implications for residents of Wisconsin and across the nation, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether a public employee was protected by the First Amendment if they provided testimony in whistleblower cases. The case is significant because the highest court previously held that the protection only applies to private citizens, not for someone who spoke in an official capacity. In the past, the government could penalize employees who spoke out about information they learned while on duty. The American Civil Liberties Union, law enforcement groups and whistleblower organizations expressed concern that whistleblowers might hesitate to testify if they feared retaliation.
However, it wasn't clear how far the protection went or if officials, such as law enforcement officers, were protected if they provided testimony about court cases. Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged the dilemma the college employee found himself in after he was fired from a community college for compliance with a subpoena and provided honest testimony. In another view, Justice Ginsburg said that he was speaking as a citizen and that testifying wasn't part of his normal job duties. Justice Sotomayor expressed her concern that the government could send the wrong message if an employee was terminated for speaking out freely in court.
Employee rights are sometimes not clear when confidential information is at stake. An employment attorney might be able to defend a client in such a matter.
Source: ABC News, "Court Considers Whistleblower Free Speech Rights", Sam Hananel, April 28, 2014