SAN FRANCISCO — Mandatory lie detector tests for public employees violate the California Constitution, the state Supreme Court ruled today.
The court unanimously reversed a Court of Appeal ruling denying a request by the Long Beach City Employees Assn. for a preliminary injunction against the City of Long Beach to stop polygraph testing.
Justice Allen J. Broussard wrote that ordering polygraph examinations as a condition of employment intruded on the workers' rights to privacy and equal protection under the law.
"I feel ready to shout out to the world," said Dennis Buschman, director of field services for the employees association. "This affects all the cities and counties throughout the state. It's a landmark decision from a labor standpoint."
"We're not surprised, but we are disappointed," said Bob Shannon, Long Beach assistant city attorney. He said the city had not decided whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
(Spokesmen for the Los Angeles County chief administrative office and the city Personnel Office said that to the best of their knowledge polygraph tests have not been required of any of their employees.)
The case stemmed from a 1982 sting operation by Long Beach police against marine patrol officers suspected of stealing up to $15,000 from machines at a boat launch ramp.
After the marine patrol officers discovered on police radio frequencies that the sting was taking place, the city sought mandatory lie detector tests of all 25 marine patrol officers.
Tests for Management
The association entered the case and demanded that if employees were to be given tests, management also should be tested. The city opposed that and the association took the case to Superior Court, where it was denied a temporary restraining order. The Second Court of Appeal also denied a preliminary injunction, and the case went to the Supreme Court last October.
The Supreme Court found "'no compelling state interest that justifies the unequal treatment of 'public safety officers,' as currently defined, and all other public employees in a manner that intrudes on the latter group's constitutional right of privacy."