It’s a practice as old as politics: When there’s a newly elected sheriff in town, deputies left over from the old administration may lose their jobs. But if you’re the HR professional handling the changes, make sure you know which employees can be dismissed and which cannot be merely because of their political affiliation.
As the following case shows, public employees in nonpolicy positions are protected from post-election bloodbaths. The government units that employ them must have a reason for the discharge, such as or a genuine reorganization. Otherwise, the discharges may violate the First Amendment right to free speech and free association.
The case: Anne Galli worked for the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission as director of environmental education. Galli could best be described as apolitical—she neither votes nor concerns herself with politics. She was, however, hired during a Republican administration.
When New Jersey elected a Democrat as governor, Galli lost her job and was replaced by a tax attorney with close ties to Gov. Jim McGreevey. She sued, alleging her discharge amounted to illegal political patronage and violated her right to free speech and free association.
The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a trial. It concluded Galli’s former job was not a policymaking one and that she had presented some evidence that her discharge wasn’t due to poor performance or a legitimate cost-cutting reorganization. She will get a chance to prove she lost her job because she didn’t support McGreevey’s administration. (Galli v. New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, No. 05-4114, 3rd Cir., 2007)
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