Public Employment for Motorcycle Gangs

By Bill Wright

A public employer – an organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of youth offenders – will face trial over its termination of a motorcycle gang member. In Godwin v. RVYCF, No. 1:12-cv-00478-CL (9th Cir. Aug. 10, 2016), a public employer discharged an employee for coming to work wearing his colors for a motorcycle gang. The court ruled that wearing the colors was speech protected under the First Amendment because it showed the employee approved of the activities of “a perceived criminal organization,” and that was newsworthy. But the court also determined that the public employer had not presented actual evidence of disruption, to its mission or to the workplace, arising from the employee wearing the colors. In fact, the court noted that the employee had arranged motorcycle shows for the youth participating in the organization.

A dissenting judge tried to point out that the employer was a law enforcement organization and an employee showing support for a “perceived criminal organization” would be disruptive “as a matter of law,” but the other judges out voted him.

This gives new meaning to “dual-career police professionals.”