Waters v. Churchill

Facts of the Case

After a public hospital in Illinois fired Cheryl Churchill who had worked in the hospital’s obstetrics department, Churchill filed an internal grievance in which she claimed that she had been fired because of sharing her sentiments to a second nurse about the hospital’s cross-training policy and the staffing policies of the hospital’s vice president of nursing. According to other hospital personnel, Churchill had complained about her department and her supervisor, Cynthia Waters, in the conversation and had discouraged the second nurse from transferring to the obstetrics department. The hospital’s president rejected the grievance after meeting Churchill, reviewing the written reports of Waters and the vice president, and having another hospital official interview the second nurse. Churchill subsequently brought suit under 42 USCS 1983 against the hospital, president, vice president, and Waters in the district court. Among Churchill’s claims in the suit was that her speech had been protected under the Federal Constitution’s First Amendment and that the firing had thus violated her First Amendment rights. Churchill produced evidence to the effect that she had criticized the cross-training policy prior to the conversation in question, and that the hospital management might have been hostile to her because of the criticisms. The district court, in granting summary judgment to the defendants on the free speech claim, expressed the view that (1) Churchill’s speech was not protected under the First Amendment as a matter of law