A. Did Leslie's Discharge Violate Her Constitutional Rights?
We noted at the outset of this Opinion the settled proposition that, as a general rule, one cannot be discharged from public employment because of the exercise of a first amendment right. See Wieman v. Updegraff, 344 U.S. 183, 73 S. Ct. 215, 97 L. Ed. 216 (1952); Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 81 S. Ct. 247, 5 L. Ed. 2d 231 (1952); Keyishian v. Bd. of Regents, 385 U.S. 589, 87 S. Ct. 675, 17 L. Ed. 2d 629 (1967); Pickering v. Bd. of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 88 S. Ct. 1731, 20 L. Ed. 2d 811 (1968). In these cases, the Supreme Court has analyzed the competing interests of the employee as a citizen and the right of an employer qua employer to retain an efficacious employment relationship. However, in Pickering, the Court highlighted several areas of exception to the general rule. Our ultimate conclusion in this case, i.e., that the facts as we have found them fall within what we find to be an exception to that rule, necessitates an exegesis of Pickering.
Pickering was a dismissed teacher who sued the Board of Education seeking reinstatement. He had been dismissed by the Board for sending a letter to a local newspaper attacking the manner in which the Board and the district superintendent of schools had handled past proposals to raise new revenues and criticizing the allocation between athletics and scholastics. After a full hearing, the Board dismissed Pickering, finding that the publication of the letter was "detrimental to the efficient operation and administration of the schools of the district." Pickering claimed that his right to express his views on public issues was protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal on the basis that Pickering's acceptance of a teaching position in the public schools obliged him to refrain from making statements about the operation of the schools, even though as a citizen he had a right to make them. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that in the absence of proof of false statements knowingly and recklessly made, Pickering's exercise of his right to free speech could not justify his dismissal.
In reviewing the facts of Pickering, Mr. Justice Marshall, speaking for the Court, found that the facts presented "no question of maintaining either discipline by immediate superiors or harmony among co-workers" and that the employment relationship between Pickering and the Board and superintendent were not the kind requiring "personal loyalty and confidence" in order to function properly. Inter alia, Mr. Justice Marshall observed:
"To the extent that the Illinois Supreme Court's opinion may be read to suggest that teachers may constitutionally be compelled to relinquish the First Amendment rights they would otherwise enjoy as citizens to comment on matters of public interest in connection with the operation of the public schools in which they work, it proceeds on a premise that has been unequivocally rejected in numerous prior decisions of this Court . . . At the same time it cannot be gainsaid that the State has interests as an employer in regulating the speech of its employees that differ significantly from those it possesses in connection with regulation of the speech of the citizenry in general. The problem in any case is to arrive at a balance between the interests of the teacher, as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern and the interests of the State, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees." (citations omitted).