A federal judge has ruled that an Oregon man was within his First Amendment rights when he referred to himself as an “engineer,” even though he was not licensed as a professional engineer. This ruling does not, in any way, weaken or change the fact that only PEs may engage in the professional practice of engineering in the state, nor that only licensed individuals may call themselves professional engineers or PEs.
The ruling on December 28 by US Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman stems from a case that began in 2016, when the Oregon Board of Examiners for Engineering and Land Surveying fined Mats Järlström $500 for referring to himself as an “engineer” in documents sent to the board and in media interviews. Järlström’s case began when he submitted a letter and calculations to the board, calling into question the timing of red-light cameras, after his wife received a ticket for a red-light violation. In the letter, Järlström, who earned an electrical engineering degree in his native Sweden, referred to himself as an “electronics engineer,” which the board said violated state law regarding use of the title “engineer.”
Although recognizing his right to use the generic term “engineer” publicly and privately, the judge’s ruling was limited. The judge determined that Järlström may study, communicate publicly about, and communicate privately about, his theories relating to traffic lights as long as his communications occur outside the context of an employment or contractual relationship relating to the timing of traffic lights with a governmental or other entity that changes or implements or has final approval to change or implement traffic-light timing without the review and acceptance of responsibility by an Oregon-licensed professional engineer.
Oregon is one of the few states with a statute that aims to regulate the general use of the term “engineer.” This ruling is a setback for those provisions, but the main issue remains unchanged: Only PEs may engage in the professional practice of engineering as defined by the state, and only licensed individuals may call themselves professional engineers or PEs.