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Are government workers protected against bias based on marital status? 7th Circuit passes

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

Public employees have rights that private-sector employees don’t, including exercising constitutional rights like free speech and due process. That’s because constitutional rights apply to government actions.

But do public employees enjoy the right to be free from retaliation based on marital association? Faced with that question, the 7th Circuit recently punted.

Recent case: Judy Norman-Nunnery is married to Willie Nunnery, a lawyer. She applied for a job with a technical college and rated as meeting the minimum requirements for the position. She didn’t, however, make the final cut to be interviewed and therefore wasn’t hired.

Norman-Nunnery suspected the real reason she wasn’t interviewed was because her husband had unsuccessfully sued the college on behalf of an employee. He lost the case rather spectacularly when the court ruled the case was frivolous and relied on fraudulent documents. In fact, Nunnery ended up having his law license suspended over the case.

Norman-Nunnery sued, alleging that the college violated her constitutional right to due process and free association by retaliating against her for her husband’s actions.

The college said it used legitimate reasons to cut the applicant pool. But it also asked the court to rule that there is no constitutional right to be free of retaliation for the actions of one’s spouse.

The court refused to decide that issue, instead concluding simply that Norman-Nunnery wasn’t the best qualified candidate. (Norman-Nunnery v. Madison Area Technical College, No. 09-1757, 7th Cir., 2010)

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