Sweet v. Town of Bargersville, No. 20-2061 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
After a steady buildup of performance problems, Sweet lost her job as a customer service representative in the Bargersville, Indiana clerk-treasurer’s office. Months before she was fired, Sweet criticized Longstreet, the elected clerk-treasurer, for reconnecting the utility service of a delinquent customer who was Longstreet’s wealthy business partner. Arguing that she was fired for vocalizing her opposition to the reconnection, she sued Longstreet and the town alleging retaliation in violation of her First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Sweet cited “suspicious timing” in the form of a five-month gap between her criticism and the termination of her employment; an ambiguous affidavit from a fellow employee; and the fact that her former employer offered several reasons for her termination rather than a single, consistent explanation.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants in her suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Even if Sweet’s criticism of Longstreet was constitutionally protected, she lacks sufficient evidence to support an inference that it was a motivating factor in the termination of her employment. The evidence, considered as a whole, indicates that Sweet was fired for multiple reasons, including “her long documented history of deficient performance, failure to improve on requested areas, incidences of bullying and repeated mistakes.”