William Hawkins is a detective with the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia. Hawkins is also a member of the Fraternal Order of Police.

In 2009, a Washington Post journalist contacted Hawkins regarding an article she was researching on the Department’s “All Hands On Deck” initiative. “All Hands On Deck” is a Department policy designed to deliver police staffing in particular areas at particular times. Because of the impact on employees’ work and off-duty lives, and because of questions about the program’s efficacy, the program has seen more than a little controversy.

Hawkins obtained authorization from the Fraternal Order of Police to speak to the journalist as a representative. An article was published the next day in the Washington Post in which Hawkins was quoted commenting on the “All Hands On Deck” policy and its effect on his caseload, including a burglary to which he had recently responded. When the Department opened a disciplinary investigation on Hawkins, he filed a First Amendment free speech lawsuit against the Department.

A federal court rejected the Department’s request to dismiss the lawsuit. The Department argued that Hawkins’ claims were precluded by the Supreme Court’s decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006). In Garcetti, the Supreme Court held: “The first inquiry requires determining whether the employee spoke as a citizen on a matter of public concern. If the answer is no, the employee has no First Amendment cause of action based on his or her employer’s reaction to the speech. If the answer is yes, then the possibility of a First Amendment claim arises.”

The Court held that the Garcetti rule did not preclude Hawkins’ lawsuit because his speech to the reporter was as a representative of the Fraternal Order of Police, not the Department: “The Garcetti analysis is not controlling in this case, however, because Hawkins has alleged that he was speaking not as a public employee, but on behalf of the FOP, when he communicated with the Post. Though neither the Supreme Court nor this Circuit has addressed the issue of how Garcetti applies to a union representative, other courts have found that such speech is different. Hawkins does not claim to have been a union leader, but merely to have spoken as a representative of the union. This difference need not be dispositive, however, because if Hawkins was truly speaking on behalf of the FOP, as this Court must credit at this stage, his speech was not made pursuant to his duties, and thus would merit First Amendment protection.”

Hawkins v. Boone, 2011 WL 1982505 (D. D.C. 2011).

The above article has appeared in a previous issue of Public Safety Labor News and has been reprinted courtesy of Labor Relations Information System. These articles are for informational purposes only.