As the forthcoming election heats up, we thought we'd tell the story of rival public servants vying for the same elected position and how a politician tried to terminate her opponent, who was also her subordinate, for being "disgruntled." No, it's not HRC!
This story, from the Lone Star State and BLR's HR Manager's Legal Reporter, began when two Ector County employees campaigned for election as County Clerk. Upon winning, the victor demoted her rival but preserved her job for nearly 4 years.
As the next election loomed, however, the new County Clerk cited two alleged policy violations and fired her subordinate. The subordinate sued.
Apparently, the subordinate had "held" a signed order and erased its docket sheet entry without asking for permission from a judge and had also retrieved a file from the judge's locked office without permission.
The subordinate sued, alleging that she was fired for political reasons, and that her conduct was protected by the First Amendment. The district court awarded her damages of $64,000. The county appealed.
Appellate judges quickly concluded that running for office constituted protected conduct.
Furthermore, the County Clerk admitted that she thought running against a "disgruntled former employee" would be easier than running against a current subordinate--a bit of testimony that judges found damning!
Witnesses also confirmed that other clerks and deputies had "held" signed orders and had entered the judge's office without adverse consequences. The judges affirmed the award (Jordan v. Morgan and Ector County, 516 F.3d 290 (5th Cir. 2008)).
And, as this case shows, you're going to be in trouble if there's a smoking gun (the
statement), and if the terminated person was treated more harshly than other employees (the firing).