Good news for government agencies: People who apply for government work don’t have a property interest in a potential job, even if they make the list of finalists, and others on the list don’t want the job.
That’s true even if the hiring committee states it plans to hire someone from the list and then does not.
Recent case: Edward McDonald worked for the city of St. Paul until he was discharged in 2003. He sued and the parties ended up settling the case and releasing each other from liability.
Four years later, a new position opened up and McDonald applied. He was one of the top three candidates who interviewed. During the interview process, McDonald was allegedly informed that one of the three would get the job.
Both of the other candidates were offered the job but declined. That’s when the city concluded it needed a larger candidate pool. In the end, after several other candidates also declined offers or withdrew, it hired someone other than McDonald.
He sued, alleging he had a property interest in the job, based in part on the alleged promise.
But the court tossed out his claim. It reasoned that only employees—and not applicants—can have a property interest in a public job. The court also found no evidence that St. Paul retaliated against McDonald because of his prior lawsuit. (McDonald v. City of St. Paul, et al., No. 09-908, DC MN, 2011)
Final note: You may be able to avoid “rehire” lawsuits by including in any lawsuit settlement a promise that the former employee will not apply for any open positions in the future. It may cost a few more settlement dollars to get such an agreement, but that can save time and money later on.