What happens if you call your government boss a fool or worse? Apparently nothing if you do it in writing, in a union newspaper, and the boss cannot prove - beyond reasonable doubt - that he is not one or the other.
In a most unusual victory for freedom of speech, a federal administrative law judge has ruled that a postal worker who printed very unkind things about his bosses cannot be punished. The clerk is also a columnist for a union newspaper in St. Louis.
In a column about alleged mismanagement at his office, the clerk columnist signed off a zinger with the following paragraph about an "acting" supervisor:
"Acting supervisor, acting fool or acting a-hole. Three different names, but they all mean the same."
Some of the acting supervisors took that personally. The upshot was that the employe was suspended for three weeks for having a "grossly disrespectful attitude towards postal supervision" and for undermining management in general.
Administrative Law Judge Claude R. Wolfe ruled that the clerk-columnist, Melvin Sanders, couldn't be suspended. More diplomatically, Wolfe wrote:
"Sanders' expression of opinion might have been couched in words more acceptable, and 'a-hole' is plainly a derogatory epithet. But as the Supreme Court has said, "The most repulsive speech enjoys immunity provided it falls short of reckless untrugh.'"
The Judge added that the columnist did his thing under "conerted union activity" protected by the Taft Hartley Act.
With all that, plus the fact that the acting supervisors apparently couldn't - or chose not - to prove they were not as Sanders described them, the suspension was revoked. Sanders is back at his job and typewriter. Odds are, however, it may be a long, long time before he is named postmaster of St. Louis.
Census, Politics, Big Bucks: Rep, Jim Leach (R-Iowa) is worried that the 1980 census could be used to statistical advantage by politicians who would juggle numbers to get more federal funds for their districts.
The White House has announced that the 1980 census will be bilingual (English and Spanish) for the first time. As reported here in March, administration officials will give "special emphasis" to hiring census takers from local communities so that Blacks, Hispanics and the poor - who all claim serious 1970 undercounts - will be tallied. Nearly $50 billion in various federal benefits are allocated on the basis of population figures taken from the census.
Leach says he has heard that "elected leaders of local jurisdictions" will be allowed to "review" data before it is transmitted to the Census Bureau.
An estimated 275,000 people, mostly college students and housewives, will be hired for short-term census jobs at $3.50 an hour. Leach has asked President Carter for assurances that the census and census employment won't be used for political purposes.