Daily Dispatches
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Worker says boss told her to keep anti-Obamacare opinions quiet

First Amendment

A longtime Santa Clara, Calif., employee was reprimanded last month after a co-worker overheard her critiquing Obamacare’s problematic rollout during a break-time chat. 

Norina Mooney worked for over 20 years at the county’s child support enforcement division in San Jose. She reportedly observed co-workers’ overtly pro-Obama stances evidenced by election pins, posters, and T-shirts. But her comment to another employee about the high number of insurance policy cancellations resulting from the president’s Affordable Care Act was deemed “offensive” by a third-party listener and reported to her supervisor, who told her she must go outside the building to discuss political or controversial views.

Mooney is fighting back. On Nov. 8, her attorney sent the county office a warning letter citing the violation of her free speech rights. “We warned the county that this type of censorship would spark public outrage if it were not immediately addressed,” lawyer Matthew McReynolds said in a press release last Friday from the Sacramento-based Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), which is representing Mooney.

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Two weeks ago, county lawyers expressed their intention to respond, but McReynolds is still waiting. “Unfortunately, they do not yet seem to be taking seriously this obviously impermissible restriction on free speech,” he said.

In an email response to WORLD, County Counsel Orry Korb said the county enforces “content-neutral workplace rules” including an anti-discrimination policy. Mooney and other employees are “welcome to express their political opinions in the workplace” as long as they comply with county and union policies, “including those prohibiting violence, threats of violence, harassment, discrimination, and other unacceptable conduct; and so long as they do not disrupt other employees conducting County business.”

But PJI President Brad Dacus said the county has yet to retract Mooney’s reprimand. PJI likely will take legal action. “We are committed to ensuring that people like her do not have to worry about being silenced by government employers just because they disagree with a governmental policy,” Dacus said. PJI receives more than 4,000 requests for assistance a year, mostly from California workers over free-speech violations. 

Mary Jackson
Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson is a writer who lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and three young children.

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