ANN ARBOR — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has issued an opinion critical of Packard Community Clinic’s policy regarding speech of employees. In a letter to Executive Director Kim Kratz, the ACLU states: “… the policy is extremely broad and poses serious civil liberties implications for the free expression rights of employees.” Catherine Wilkerson, MD, MPH, who had worked at the clinic for over five years, was fired by the clinic in February after she protested the policy as part of a new employment contract. Board President Jim Frenza told the Ann Arbor News in February that Dr. Wilkerson was dismissed because of her refusal to sign the contract. In the opinion of the ACLU that contract should be revised and any employees no longer working at the clinic because of refusing to agree to the former agreement should be “… given the opportunity to return to work upon signing a revised agreement.”
The policy and contract language at issue would have required Dr. Wilkerson to refrain from activities, even outside the workplace, which the clinic’s Medical Director Ray Rion, MD, might disapprove of. According to the ACLU, the policy “…could prevent an [employee] from participating in virtually any political demonstration outside of work that has nothing to do with work.” The letter goes on to say that “…there is no question that if all employers forbade employees from expressing controversial political ideas outside of work, the values of free speech and democracy in this country would be severely undermined.” Dr. Wilkerson had expressed controversial political ideas outside of work, and the letter indicates that her doing so is what prompted the adoption of the policy.
Recalling the McCarthy era, in which people were blackballed for involvement in controversial political activities, ACLU Legal Director Michael Steinberg used the term “repressive” in describing Packard’s speech policy. He points out that “Today, the punishment of these individuals is universally condemned as discrimination based on political association at its worst.” The Committee to Defend Catherine Wilkerson (CDCW) requested a meeting with clinic officials to present petitions from more than 400 patients and supporters to stop the termination proceedings. Clinic officials refused. The CDCW also tried to arrange mediation through the Dispute Resolution Center of Washtenaw County, but Mr. Frenza refused, claiming there were no issues to mediate. Dr. Wilkerson hopes that the ACLU letter will cause clinic officials to reconsider.
The Committee to Defend Catherine Wilkerson’s web site is defendwilkerson.org The Committee’s work is supported by the National Lawyers Guild, Detroit & Michigan Chapter; Council on American Islamic Relations, Michigan Chapter; Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality; Huron Valley Greens; Green Party of Michigan; Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice; Gray Panthers of Huron Valley; Bolivarian Youth (Miami); and, the Broward (FL) AntiWar Coalition.