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Grusendorf v. City of Oklahoma City


The court's decision cleared the way for city and state governments to impose restrictions on the conduct of their employees outside of work, so long as those restrictions are related in some way to the performance of the employee's job. Particularly with respect to public safety employees, such as police officers and firefighters, the court's decision essentially approved a wide range of government restrictions on the off-work conduct of public employees.

In the early 1980s, as the medical community and the public became more aware of the dangers associated with smoking, private and public employers began to institute severe restrictions on the ability of employees to smoke. In October of 1984 Greg Grusendorf was hired as a firefighter trainee by the Oklahoma City Fire Department, which had a policy prohibiting firefighter trainees from smoking either on or off duty. In December of 1984, while at lunch with other trainees, Grusendorf partially smoked a cigarette. The incident was observed by another city employee, who reported the incident to the fire chief. Grusendorf was fired, pursuant to the city's anti-smoking policy.

Because the city is a public entity, it is bound by the terms of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides that the government may not "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Although the Fourteenth Amendment speaks of the fairness of the "process" used to deprive someone of their rights, the Supreme Court has held that the amendment protects against any deprivation of certain "fundamental" rights, regardless of the procedures used by the government, a concept known as "substantive due process." These "fundamental" rights include the rights mentioned in the first ten amendments to the Constitution, such as the right to free speech, and certain rights concerning privacy and personal autonomy, such as marriage and procreation.

Grusendorf filed a lawsuit against the city in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, claiming that the city's anti-smoking policy, as applied to his activities when he was off-duty, violated his substantive due process rights under the Due Process Clause. The district court granted the city's motion to dismiss Grusendorf's suit, and Grusendorf appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Grusendorf v. City of Oklahoma City - Significance, Tenth Circuit Finds City's Policy Reasonable, Impact, Further Readings