Hamptons Jury Upholds Volunteer's Right to Kvetch

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It's official: You can kvetch all you want about any organization for which you're a volunteer — your local hospital, Greenpeace, the Democrats — and it's thanks to Pat Lynch. The former NBC reporter sued the Southampton Animal Shelter in 2005, saying it had violated her right to free speech when it fired her from her volunteer duties the year before. A jury sided with her this week, awarding her $251,000. Lynch had been walking the center's dogs and, troubled by conditions there — including how the animals were euthanized — she wrote letters to The Southampton Press expressing her concern, and filed a lawsuit against the shelter. Administrators let her go soon after. "It's a huge decision," her lawyer, Steve Morelli, told New York. "Volunteers don't have to be afraid to speak their mind as long as it's a matter of public concern and they're not disruptive." Good. But if Lynch didn't agree with the shelter's policies, why didn't she just walk away? "I love animals and I wanted to bring about positive change," she says. "When you volunteer, you don't leave your First Amendment rights at the front door." —S. Jhoanna Robledo