Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Anti-SLAPP Motions: A Hurdle for Some Plaintiffs

Workers suing a public employer must know about a possible hurdle: Anti-SLAPP motions. In Park v. Board of Trustees of California University (2015) (Park), a California appeals court used an “anti-SLAPP” law in favor of a public employer. SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” SLAPPs are used to scare and silence critics.

California has made “anti-SLAPP” laws that allow a defendant stop a SLAPP suit dead in its tracks if (1) the suit was based on free speech about a public issue or made during official proceedings authorized by law, and (2) the plaintiff cannot prove that it would likely win. Thus, an “anti-SLAPP motion” saves a defendant from the expenses of a long lawsuit. In a sense, one can think of a SLAPP defendant as the “David” to plaintiff’s “Goliath.” But what happens when the roles are reversed? What happens when Goliath “anti-SLAPPs” David?

In Park, a teacher sued the California State University system for discrimination. In response, CSU “anti-SLAPPed” Park, saying that Park’s lawsuit came from protected speech made during its tenure review process. The Court of Appeal agreed and found that that all of Park’s claims were based on “protected speech activity” made during legally authorized personnel procedures for public workers.

Park illustrates where an anti-SLAPP motion is used to disrupt a plaintiff’s suit against a public employer. Thus, where a public worker’s suit might implicate protected public speech, the worker must carefully craft their legal argument and brace against a potential anti-SLAPP motion.