Site Map Icon
RSS Feed icon

Important Links
EPMPOA Memorial Hall
AETNA Insurance
CLEAT Dental/Vision (Ameritas)
Dearborn Life Insurance
Dearborn National (EyeMed)
WellConnect - EAP / Stress Management
Prudential Retirement - Deferred Comp.
El Paso Fire/Police Pension
El Paso Fire-Police Pension Fund Facebook
Agency Web
City/EPPD Webmail
El Paso Police Department
History of El Paso Police Dept.
EP County Sheriff's Officers Assn.
El Paso Firefighter's Association
City of El Paso
County of El Paso
State of Texas
Officer Down Memorial
Peace Officer's Memorial Foundation
Union Plus
Police Pay
Calibre Press
American Police Beat Magazine
City of El Paso Ordinance Search

Follow me on Facebook!

Follow me on Facebook!!

Justices Rule First Amendment Protects Officer Demoted in Misunderstanding
Updated On: Jun 06, 2016

WASHINGTON — It has long been established that public workers as a general matter may not be fired or demoted for speaking out on political topics. The Supreme Court on Tuesday (April 26, 2016) ruled on a case that involved a twist on that question: What if the official doing the demoting misunderstood what the worker had done?

The justices, in a 6-to-2 decision, said it was unconstitutional to demote a police officer based on the mistaken assumption that he had engaged in political activity.

“When an employer demotes an employee out of a desire to prevent the employee from engaging in political activity that the First Amendment protects, the employee is entitled to challenge that unlawful action,” Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority, “even if, as here, the employer makes a factual mistake about the employee’s behavior.”

The case, Heffernan v. Paterson, N.J., No. 14-1280, concerned Jeffrey J. Heffernan, a police detective in Paterson. He was seen with a sign for a mayoral candidate, Lawrence Spagnola, leaving the impression that he supported the candidate. In fact, Mr. Heffernan’s bedridden mother had asked him to pick up the sign for her. Mr. Heffernan had taken no position on the candidate.

He was nonetheless demoted to patrol officer based on a supervisor’s understanding that he had been making a political statement.

“In this way, they punished Heffernan for what they thought was his ‘overt involvement’ in Spagnola’s campaign,” Justice Breyer wrote of city officials. “In fact, Heffernan was not involved in the campaign but had picked up the sign simply to help his mother. Heffernan’s supervisors had made a factual mistake.”

Mr. Heffernan sued and lost, with the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Philadelphia, ruling that his First Amendment rights had not been violated because he had not exercised them.

Justice Breyer disagreed, saying it was the government’s motive rather than the worker’s activities that mattered. “The government acted upon a constitutionally harmful policy whether Heffernan did or did not in fact engage in political activity,” he wrote.

“The upshot is that a discharge or demotion based upon an employer’s belief that the employee has engaged in protected activity can cause the same kind, and degree, of constitutional harm whether that belief does or does not rest upon a factual mistake,” Justice Breyer wrote.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined the majority opinion, which returned the case to the lower courts to explore whether the city might have demoted Mr. Heffernan on other, lawful grounds.

In dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas said the majority had focused on the wrong factor. The worker’s actions and not the government’s motives mattered, he said.

“Demoting a dutiful son who aids his elderly, bedridden mother may be callous, but it is not unconstitutional,” Justice Thomas wrote in an opinion joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

“The majority surmises that an attempted violation of an employee’s First Amendment rights can be just as harmful as a successful deprivation of First Amendment rights,” Justice Thomas wrote.

“But harm alone is not enough; it has to be the right kind of harm,” he added.

A version of this article appears in print on April 27, 2016, on page A13 of the New York Times New York edition with the headline: Justices Rule for Officer Demoted in New Jersey. 

April 09, 2020
Member Login


Not registered yet?
Click Here to sign-up

Forgot Your Login?
<< April 2020 >>
1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30
Upcoming Events
Good Friday - NOT a City Recognized Holiday
Apr 10, 2020
Easter Sunday - NOT a City Recognized Holiday
Apr 12, 2020
EPPD Retirees Breakfast
Apr 13, 2020
El Sarape Restaurant 5103 Montana Ave.
Board of Directors Meeting - VIRTUAL MEETING (online)
Apr 14, 2020
747 E. San Antonio Ave. Suite #103 El Paso Tx 79901
Deadline to Submit Scholarship Application - EXTENDED
Apr 15, 2020

Action Center

Elvira Stephanie Frias - New York Life / EPMPOA Approved Provider

Funeral Pre-Arrangement packages for First Responders and their immediate family members. Contact Michael Sanchez at (915) 549-7570.

Proud Sponsor of the EPMPOA

Paulina Longenbaugh, (915) 422-5412; Lenee Reyes, (915) 241-5747 - - Randi Cabrera, (915) 204-3867

EPMPOA Approved Provider

EPMPOA Approved Provider -- Benefit #1: #XZ34578 / PIN: ELP Benefit #2: #XZL3402 / PIN: GOB

EPMPOA Approved Provider -- Benefit #1: #XZ34578 /PIN: ELP - Benefit #2: #XZL3402 / PIN: GOB

EPMPOA Approved Provider

EPMPOA Approved Provider

Follow Us!
Facebook icon Twitter icon
El Paso Municipal Police Officers' Association
Copyright © 2020, All Rights Reserved.
Powered By UnionActive™

946129 hits since Apr 11, 2011

Top of Page image