‘Rubber stamp theory’ applies to Civil Service decisions, too

Employees who claim they were fired illegally and whose jobs are protected by the Civil Service Act can win their lawsuits—if they can prove the Civil Service Board merely rubber-stamped a supervisor’s discriminatory decision.

Until now, it was unclear whether that was the case.

Recent case: Les Partington claimed that his supervisor had fired him from his Civil Service job for speaking with a black co-worker about workplace problems. Partington appealed his discharge to the Civil Service Board, which upheld his discharge. Partington’s claim was that he had been fired in violation of his right to free speech.

Partington filed a federal lawsuit against his supervisor, trying to hold him liable for his firing. He claimed that in over 10 years, the board had never overturned a discharge decision—effectively rubber-stamping everything.

The federal judge hearing the case said that the “rubber-stamp theory”—by which the illegal motive of someone who recommends firing an employee is transferred to the actual decision-making entity—does apply to Civil Service Board decisions, too. But the court also dismissed the case, concluding that in this case, there was no evidence the board didn’t consider all the facts when it made its decision.

The court then dismissed the lawsuit against the supervisor, since the board—not the supervisor—had had the last word. It wouldn’t matter if the supervisor broke the law if the board had rendered a fair and independent decision. (Partington v. Scott, No. 2:06-CV-310, MD FL, 2007)

Final note: Disciplinary decisions should be made independent of recommendations from immediate supervisors, whose opinions may be tainted by discrimination.