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Tenth Circuit Rejects “Duty Speech” Defense in s. 1983 Case

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In Thomas v. City of Blanchard, the Tenth Circuit held that the district court erred in concluding that Thomas’s speech was outside the scope of First Amendment protections under Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006).  Thomas, a former building code inspector for the City of Blanchard, alleged that he was terminated for blowing the whistle about what he perceived to be false certifications of home inspections.  The district court granted the City’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that Thomas’s speech was not protected under the First Amendment because his report to the Oklahoma State Bureau Investigation (“OSBI”) was made pursuant to his professional duties. 

The Tenth Circuit reversed, concluding that Thomas’s official duties did not include a duty to report perceived criminal violations to the OSBI and thus, his disclosure was protected under the First Amendment.  Finding genuine issues of material fact as to whether Thomas was fired for exercising his First Amendment rights, the Tenth Circuit remanded the case to the district court. 

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