WIENER, Circuit Judge:
Defendant-Appellant Gary Grief, an upper-level official of the Texas Lottery Commission (the "Commission"), appeals the district court's denial of his summary judgment motion to dismiss him, on grounds of qualified immunity, as a defendant in the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 employment retaliation suit filed by Plaintiff-Appellee Shelton Charles,
I. FACTS & PROCEEDINGS
Charles is an African-American who, in October 2005, sent an e-mail to high-ranking Commission officials, including Grief, raising concerns about racial discrimination and retaliation against him and other minority employees of the Commission. In November 2005, after failing to receive a response, Charles re-sent that e-mail, this time directing it to members of the Texas Legislature with oversight authority over the Commission. Additionally, Charles sent a new e-mail to these same members of the legislature alleging, inter alia, violations of the Texas Open Records Act, misuse of state funds, and other misconduct by Commission management. Two days later, Grief directed Charles to meet with his immediate supervisor and a human resources manager to answer questions regarding the e-mails. When those two began to question Charles about the e-mails, he requested that the Commission's questions be put in writing so that he could respond in writing. According to allegations by Charles, one of the representatives of the Commission agreed to do so; but later that same day, Grief appeared unannounced in Charles's office and fired him on the spot. Grief handed Charles a written statement to the effect that he was being fired for insubordination, specifically for his "refusal to respond to the direct requests from [his] immediate supervisor."
After Charles sued Grief and the Commission for employment retaliation in violation of Charles's constitutional right of free speech, Grief sought dismissal as a defendant on grounds of qualified immunity, which the district court denied, largely on the basis of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. Like the magistrate judge, the district court concluded that Charles had introduced summary judgment evidence that, when viewed in the light most favorable to him as the nonmovant, was sufficient to establish that (1) Charles's acts were protected by clearly established First Amendment law,
1. Appellate Jurisdiction
"Although a denial of a defendant's motion for summary judgment is ordinarily not immediately appealable, the Supreme Court has held that the denial of a motion for summary judgment based upon qualified immunity is a collateral order capable of immediate review. Our jurisdiction is significantly limited, however, for it extends to such appeals only to the extent that [the denial of summary judgment] turns on an issue of law."
"[O]fficials enjoy qualified immunity to the extent that their conduct is objectively reasonable in light of clearly established law. Whenever the district court denies an official's motion for summary judgment predicated upon qualified immunity, the district court can be thought of as making two distinct determinations, even if only implicitly. First, the district court decides that a certain course of conduct would, as a matter of law, be objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law. Second, the court decides that a genuine issue of fact exists regarding whether the defendant(s) did, in fact, engage in such conduct. According to the Supreme Court, as well as our own precedents, we lack jurisdiction to review conclusions of the second type on interlocutory appeal. Stated differently, in an interlocutory appeal we cannot challenge the district court's assessments regarding the sufficiency of the evidence—that is, the question whether there is enough evidence in the record for a jury to conclude that certain facts are true. We do, however, have jurisdiction to review the first type of determination, the purely legal question whether a given course of conduct would be objectively unreasonable in light of clearly established law."
2. Qualified Immunity
"To determine whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity, the court asks (1) whether the plaintiff has alleged a violation of a constitutional right, and (2) whether the defendant's conduct was objectively reasonable in light of the clearly established law at the time of the incident."
Terminating an employee for engaging in protected speech, of which Charles accuses Grief, is an objectively unreasonable violation of such an employee's First Amendment rights. Grief, though, insists that (1) Charles did not engage in protected speech, but (2) even if he did, Grief's actions were "objectively reasonable" because he fired Charles, not for his speech,
Whether Charles engaged in protected speech is a purely legal question over which we have appellate jurisdiction.
3. Protected Speech
"Public employees do not surrender all their free speech rights by reason of their employment. Rather, the First Amendment protects a public employee's right, in certain circumstances, to speak as a citizen on matters of public concern."
a. Garcetti v. Ceballos
Before proceeding to examine the substance of Charles's speech, we must first focus on his role when he uttered it. "Emphasizing the distinction between a speaker acting in her role as `citizen' and her role as `employee,' Garcetti held that the First Amendment does not protect `expressions made pursuant to [the employee's] official duties.' Even if the speech is of great social importance, it is not protected by the First Amendment so long as it was made pursuant to the worker's official duties."
Albeit in the alternative to his primary proffered reason for firing Charles (insubordination), Grief insists that Charles's
In Garcetti, a deputy district attorney reported to his supervisor that there were inaccuracies in an affidavit supporting a search warrant and recommended that the office refrain from prosecuting the case. The deputy alleged that he was subjected to a series of retaliatory actions in response to this intra-office speech. The Supreme Court concluded that the deputy's speech was not entitled to First Amendment protection because it was made pursuant to his official duties, specifically in fulfillment of his responsibility to advise his supervisor about how best to proceed with a pending case.
Williams requires us to determine the extent to which a public employee's speech was protected if his speech was not necessarily required by his job duties but was nevertheless related to them.
Grief insists that Garcetti and its progeny control, emphasizing that (1) Charles's speech concerned "special knowledge" that he had obtained through his employment at the Commission, and (2) Charles identified himself in his e-mails as a Commission employee. Even when accepted as true, neither of these assertions is dispositive. To hold that any employee's speech is not protected merely because it concerns facts that he happened to learn while at work would severely undercut First Amendment rights. Also, it is apparent that Charles identified himself as a Commission employee solely to demonstrate the veracity of the factual allegations he was making in his e-mails to the legislators. After introducing himself as a Commission employee, Charles further emphasized the foundation for his allegations by stating that he was available to speak to the legislative officials about activities that he had "witnessed" while employed. Moreover, Charles submitted the
Most significantly, though, Charles's speech—unlike that of the plaintiffs in Garcetti and Williams—was not made in the course of performing or fulfilling his job responsibilities, was not even indirectly related to his job, and was not made to higher-ups in his organization (as were Ceballos's and Williams's) but was communicated directly to elected representatives of the people. As a systems analyst, Charles worked in the area of Information Resources as a senior technical lead coordinating and supporting the Commission's computer network operations. He was not in a professional position of trust and confidence like those of an assistant district attorney or a sheriff's deputy. Even though his job description is not contained in the record on appeal
Moreover, the persons to whom Charles directed his e-mails further distinguishes his speech from that of the plaintiffs in Garcetti and Williams: Charles voiced his complaints externally, to Texas legislators who had oversight authority over the Commission, not internally, to supervisors. His decision to ignore the normal chain of command in identifying problems with Commission operations is a significant distinction. We conclude that Charles's speech is not left unprotected by Garcetti's genre of "non-protected" speech and turn next to examine whether his speech involved matters of public concern.
b. Public Concern
"Whether an employee's speech addresses a matter of public concern must be determined by the content, form, and context of a given statement."
Charles's first e-mail advanced allegations of racial discrimination. Specifically, Charles alleged that he was individually being "treated in a discriminatory manner both in salary and working environment"; and, on a broader scale affecting all employees, that "salary, treatment, and advancement [at the Commission] are based on racial bias." His second e-mail—the only one at issue in this interlocutory appeal—focused on misconduct by Commission officials. In it, he alleged that (1) Commission management had violated the Texas Open Records Act by inflating the cost to obtain information; (2) Commission meetings were held in which the main topic of discussion concerned how to block public access to Commission information; (3) the Commission had misused state funds allocated to the Lottery Disaster Recovery site, the agency's computer records recovery system which remained non-operational; and (4) the Commission had taken steps to conceal this misuse of public funds. Moreover, Charles directed his speech to legislative officials with oversight authority over the Commission, i.e., elected officials external to the Commission who were in a position of authority to address the concerns raised.
c. Pickering Balancing
Grief, by his express declaration, limits his challenge for purposes of this qualified immunity appeal to the second prong of Charles's First Amendment retaliation claim, insisting only that Charles's speech was of a private quality, rather than of a public one. Therefore, to the extent that he might have analyzed the Pickering v. Board of Education balancing test
III. AD HOMINEM
Although we agree on rehearing that we are not without jurisdiction over all aspects of Grief's appeal, we note that the key issue before us—the one emphasized by both the district court in its denial of qualified immunity and by Grief on appeal—is causation, i.e., Grief's true reason for firing Charles. Grief insists that his actions were objectively reasonable because he fired Charles, not for his speech, but for his insubordination. The district court, however, clearly ruled that Charles produced sufficient evidence to show that there existed a genuine issue of material fact on the issue of causation, noting, inter alia, the close proximity of time between Charles's protected speech and his termination. Our precedent is clear that we lack jurisdiction over such appeals of fact-based denials of qualified immunity,
With respect to Grief's contention that his actions in terminating Charles were objectively reasonable, we dismiss for lack of jurisdiction: Whether Grief's actions were reasonable turns on causation, i.e., the real reason why Charles was fired— blowing the whistle or insubordination— about which the district court concluded that there was a genuine issue of material fact. With respect to the district court's holding that Charles did allege an objectively unreasonable violation of his constitutional rights by Grief, we affirm. Because (1) Garcetti does not apply, (2) Charles's speech involved matters of public concern, and (3) on appeal Grief has waived or abandoned the issue of the Pickering balancing test, Charles's speech is entitled to First Amendment protection if on remand Grief is found to have fired Charles for that speech, in whole or in part.
In conclusion, we reiterate that we are without jurisdiction to review causation. On remand, though, because we have concluded that Charles's speech was protected, the trier of fact's determination whether his firing was motivated by his e-mails or by his insubordination will dictate whether he is entitled to recover on his First Amendment retaliation claim.
We observe, though, that Grief makes no mention of the applicability of the Mt. Healthy defense, either in his appellate briefs or in his pleadings filed in the district court. Accordingly, we do not address this potential defense at this time. See Connelly, 484 F.3d at 346 n. 1.