Q. Our state agency’s board is considering terminating a legal secretary who seems to have been a supporter of one of our attorneys who was discharged for both
The secretary is a close friend of the discharged attorney, may have been dating him and sat next to him at the hearing on his dismissal. We understand that, under the patronage dismissal doctrine, we can terminate employees who supported the political opponent of our agency’s elective head. Can the board likewise discharge the legal secretary for her seeming disloyalty?
A. The patronage dismissal doctrine can provide immunity from claims of violations of First Amendment speech and association claims. It normally applies when a newly elected or appointed public officer fires existing employees on the basis of their political beliefs or loyalties.
A nonpolicymaking, nonconfidential government employee who otherwise satisfactorily performs her duties, however, cannot be discharged or threatened with discharge solely because of her political beliefs.
The circumstances you describe raise concerns about the secretary’s personal rather than political loyalties.
The patronage dismissal doctrine is not extended by the courts to matters of personal loyalty, such as that of the legal secretary’s otherwise constitutionally protected association with the former agency attorney.
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