LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas filed a lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of a state contractor whose contract was canceled because he emailed his state legislator to advocate against a bill to ban transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care.
Casey Copeland was a contract attorney for the state’s court system when he emailed his state representative, Rep. Charlene Fite (R-80th District), from his personal email to express his opposition to House Bill 1570.
According to Copeland, he was notified less than two days later his contract with the state would be terminated.
The lawsuit was filed against Marty Sullivan, 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.
The lawsuit alleges that state officials violated Copeland’s constitutional rights to free speech and due process and asked 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.”
According to the ACLU, Copeland had previously corresponded as a constituent with his representative on other matters without any issue.
“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 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.”
See the legal filings on ACLU Arkansas’ website.