LITTLE ROCK – The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas today filed suit on behalf of a state contractor whose contract was terminated because he emailed his state legislator to advocate against a bill to ban transgender youth from receiving medically necessary health care.
Casey Copeland, a contract attorney for the state court system, emailed his state representative, Rep. Charlene Fite, from his personal email account to express his opposition to House Bill 1570, which would bar transgender youth from receiving gender affirming care. Less than two days later, Mr. Copeland was notified that his contract with the state would be terminated. The lawsuit asserts state officials violated Mr. Copeland’s constitutional rights to free speech and due process and asks the court to block the termination of his contract.
“The right to petition our government is one of the core freedoms enshrined by the First Amendment – yet our client was retaliated against and his contract was terminated for exercising this fundamental right,” said Holly Dickson, ACLU of Arkansas executive director. “As a citizen, Casey Copeland had every right to express his opposition to this harmful legislation and urge his representative to oppose it. But instead of respecting his First Amendment right to express his views on a matter of public concern, state officials cancelled his contract in a clear violation of his protected right to engage in political speech. This is one of the most clear cut and disturbing cases of unconstitutional government retaliation I’ve seen in Arkansas. State legislators may not like hearing from constituents who are unhappy with their actions, but they can’t use the power of the state to retaliate against people because they disagree with them on a certain issue.”
Mr. Copeland had previously corresponded as a constituent with his representative on other matters without generating any adverse reactions or controversy.
“As a citizen, I felt I had an obligation to tell my state representative about the harm this bill would have. I never imagined that it would cost me part of my livelihood,” said Mr. Copeland. “I decided to bring a lawsuit to ensure that my rights and the rights of others are not abridged for the simple act of speaking their mind on an important matter of public concern as citizens of this state.”
The lawsuit was filed in federal court by the ACLU of Arkansas and cooperating attorneys Bettina E. Brownstein and Johnathan D. Horton. Defendants in the case are Marty Sullivan in his capacity as the director of the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts, and Stasia Burk McDonald, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts’ Dependency-Neglect Attorney Ad Litem Program.