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A female employee did not have sufficient liberty or speech interests in wearing a skirt rather than slacks as her driver’s uniform to overcome a county transportation department’s legitimate interest in safety and professional consistency, held a federal district court for the Southern District of New York. T The department had ordered new uniforms consisting of slacks. When Grazyna Zalewska, a van driver for the county, went for her fitting, she requested and received a skirt instead. She wore the skirt uniform for three weeks until she was suspended from her position after she was warned by the department to comport with the proper uniform requirements. Zalewska was then transferred to a different position. The suspension and transfer prompted her to file claims that her liberty and free speech interests had been violated under �� 1981 and 1983. ( Zalewska v. County of Sullivan, New York, S.D.N.Y., 82 EPD �40,949) The court held that Zalewska’s interest in her freedom to express what she termed “deeply held cultural beliefs” through the wearing of a skirt was not limitless, especially given the fact that she argued her viewpoint from the position of a public employee. The uniform requirement was well within the county’s legitimate interest to regulate, especially from its concerns of safety and professionalism. Since the length of a skirt could pose a hazard when the driver assisted disabled people into the van, the uniform slacks regulation was rationally related to the safety of the driver and her passengers. As to the freedom of speech issue, the district court held that Zalewska’s skirt was not protected conduct, because the skirt did not carry any writing or messages intended to communicate political or religious meaning. Even if the skirt was protected expression, governments are allowed to regulate expression and are allowed to adopt uniform policies for their employees, the court stated. The limits imposed on the driver’s expression were minimal; therefore, the department did not violate the First Amendment. � 2002, CCH INCORPORATED. All Rights Reserved.

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