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Gregory Hirtzel

Greg Hirtzel and Cody Kauffman Win Summary Judgment in PA First Amendment Case

FHMS attorneys Greg Hirtzel and Cody Kauffman secured summary judgment in favor of their clients in a case that turned on whether a school board and school district violated the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and association. This was the first opinion of its kind issued by Judge Jennifer P. Wilson of the United States District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The plaintiffs, a law firm and its five equity partners, alleged that they were terminated from their role as school district solicitor because of their political affiliation and activities leading up to the school board’s election. The members of the law firm actively campaigned against several candidates, who were subsequently elected to the school board. After the election, the new school board unanimously voted not to renew the law firm’s contract as school district solicitor. The law firm sued, arguing that the school district terminated them for their election activities, and violated their First Amendment rights.

Hirtzel and Kauffman moved for summary judgment for the school district. They argued that the school district did not terminate the law firm for impermissible reasons, the school district had qualified immunity, First Amendment considerations did not apply because the law firm held a policymaking position, and the school district did not develop or maintain constitutionally deficient policies. In a well-reasoned opinion, Judge Wilson granted the motion for summary judgment. She agreed that the school district solicitor is a policymaking position exempt from First Amendment protections. Accordingly, the First Amendment did not prevent the school district from terminating government employees or contractors based upon their political affiliation, including for otherwise protected speech. Finding no constitutional violation, the court dismissed the case.

For more information or a copy of the opinion, please contact FHMSlaw@fhmslaw.com