An employee of the California Department of Social Services filed suit yesterday after state officials removed items from his cubicle they consider “political, religious or social” in nature.
Enoch Lawrence sued when his employer, the Roseville branch of the California Department of Social Services, took down from the walls of his cubicle a bumper sticker that reads “Marriage: One Man One Woman,” a small sign that says “Jesus Spoken Here,” various Bible verses and two published articles on current political issues.
“Nothing in this employee’s workspace warrants this action,” said Joshua Carden, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, which is assisting Lawrence with the suit. “The Constitution does not allow the department to silence his free expression rights just because they don’t like the viewpoint he is expressing.”
The federal civil-rights lawsuit contends the state agency unjustifiably restricted Lawrence’s free speech and expression rights.
Lawrence, a disability evaluation analyst who is also a 21-year military veteran, says other employees were allowed to post personal material but he alone was targeted by government officials. He says a supervisor told him if he didn’t allow the items to be removed, it would be considered insubordination.
According to a statement from Alliance Defense Fund, the department’s policy states in part, “Each employee must exercise his or her own good judgement [sic] to avoid engaging in conduct that may be perceived by others as harassment and/or unprofessional, inappropriate behavior.”
Said Carden: “The policy is unconstitutional. The department cannot censor Mr. Lawrence’s speech because someone might ‘perceive’ it to be harassment. Furthermore, the policy provides virtually no guidelines for its enforcement. Officials have singled Mr. Lawrence out for discriminatory treatment by removing items from his cubicle that are clearly not disrupting the workplace.
“Mr. Lawrence’s religious and politically conservative viewpoint does not make him a second-class member of the department. We intend to make sure that his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights are protected.”