United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit
Employment — public employment — freedom of speech
The district court properly granted qualified immunity on a prison supervisor’s claim that his suspension, for complaining about the criminal prosecution of a co-worker, violated his right to free speech.
“[W]e agree with the district court that IDOC’s interests in restricting Volkman’s speech weigh more heavily in the balance. Volkman was employed in a supervisory capacity. Supervisors are tasked with enforcing rules and regulations. When a supervisor, like Volkman, criticizes a disciplinary decision (such as the decision to move the Burkhardt matter ‘out of house’ to the prosecutor), it undermines other employees’ respect for the chain-of-command, and for the rules which were violated in the first place. There is value in maintaining order and respect for their own sake in a paramilitary context like this one, and we will not second-guess prison officials’ conclusion that the example Volkman set through his conduct was a detrimental one. To be sure, none of this is meant to suggest that Volkman’s right to express his opinion on a matter of public concern is not also an important one. But in the paramilitary context of a correctional center, we agree with the district court that the LCC officials’ interests in maintaining order and security in the workplace outweighed Volkman’s interests in expressing his opinion on a work-related prosecution.”
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Myerscough, J., Kanne, J.