Appeals court finds Georgia State psychologists didn't have First Amendment right to complain about boss

A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled, 2 to 1, that five psychologists who wrote a memo criticizing the management of the counseling center at Georgia State University lacked First Amendment protections in their grievance.

As a result, the ruling severely undercuts a lawsuit by the five psychologists — whose jobs were eliminated shortly after they wrote the memo — claiming that the real reason they were dismissed was that they wrote the memo. Their suit argued that such a dismissal was a violation of their First Amendment rights.

The ruling is likely to interest different groups in academe for multiple reasons. One is that it cites a Supreme Court ruling limiting the free speech rights of public employees. Many advocates for academic freedom have worried about the impact of that ruling on faculty rights, but some have also expressed concern about the impact of the ruling on professionals like the psychologists in this case.

The other reason for the case’s significance is that many counselors and counseling center directors nationwide have expressed concern about the 2012 reorganization of the Georgia State counseling center that resulted in the lost jobs. Georgia State said at the time that it would outsource most counseling services, a move that struck many counselors as shortsighted in that it would be more difficult for students to build relationships with their counselors. The university said the move would improve patient services.

The legal issues were largely separate from the psychology issues.

The central issue is how to apply various …