A scientist who says Louisiana State University fired him over his criticisms of failed levees around New Orleans was speaking as a private citizen, and therefore was protected by the First Amendment, when he gave media interviews faulting the levees’ design and construction, a federal judge has ruled. An Associated Press report on the ruling said the university had argued that it had the right to fire Ivor van Heerden, the former deputy director of its hurricane center, because his statements about the levees were work-related.
Federal courts have recently split over whether faculty members at public colleges, like employees of other public agencies, lack First Amendment protections for work-related speech.
In his ruling in the Louisiana State case, Judge James J. Brady of U.S. District Court dodged that question by holding that Mr. van Heerden’s public criticisms of the levees were unrelated to his employment because the scientist’s listed job duties did not include speaking to the news media. The ruling keeps alive Mr. van Heerden’s lawsuit against the university, in which he accuses officials there of refusing to renew his contract in an attempt to stay in the good graces of the Army Corps of Engineers, which built the levees and is a major source of the university’s federal grants.