ATLANTA — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has reversed a Florida district court’s ruling to dismiss a case in which a former Doral police officer sued the city’s mayor for allegedly violating his freedom of speech rights.
Officer Anthony Rodriguez first filed suit in 2009, alleging that Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez violated his First Amendment rights by moving to terminate him after he endorsed his political rival.
In rendering the appellate court's decision, Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum found that Rodriguez was pressured into leaving his job after it became apparent he supported Bermudez's rival, Sandra Ruiz, a city councilwoman. The appeals court also held that “threatening someone with loss of employment necessarily impedes on their rights to free speech.”
Doral and Bermudez, however, had argued that Rodriguez was not fired, but rather voluntarily resigned.
Rodriguez said he was signed a resignation letter under "duress." When a superior allegedly told him he was fired for political reasons, an attorney advised him to draft his own resignation letter in order to rescind the previous one.
The city manager, however, rejected the new letter.
Rosenbaum was joined on the bench by judges Eugene E. Siler and Adalberto Jordan, who concurred.
“When an employer tells an employee that he is discharged effective immediately that can only be understood by a reasonable person to mean that employment is over," Jordan said in the appellate court decision. "At the very least, a reasonable jury could find that the delivery of the letter ended Mr. Rodriguez’s job. And if the letter terminated his employment with the city, how could Mr. Rodriguez subsequently resign from a non-existent position?”
The appeals court sent the case back to the district court for further proceedings.