California Labor and Employment Defense Blog

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Public Employee

The United States Supreme Court ruled against an individual public employee who invoked the equal protection clause of the Constitution in support of her claim. The Court ruled, in a 6-3 decision, that individual public employees have a variety of protections from personnel actions, however, the equal protection clause of the Constitution is not one of them.

In Engquist v. Oregon Department of Agriculture, the plaintiff lost her job with the Oregon Department of Agriculture and claimed that her dismissal was for "arbitrary, vindictive and malicious reasons." The Supreme Court agreed with the 9th Circuit in ruling that the plaintiff's claim involved an area of law where the rights of public employees should not be as expansive as those of ordinary citizens. Chief Justice Roberts stated that the Court has "often recognized that government has significantly greater leeway in dealing with citizen employees." Accordingly, unlike private employees who may bring an equal protection claim as a "class of one,"
public employees' rights are more limited in this context.

In reaching its ruling, the Court agreed with the Bush Administration which warned that a contrary ruling would mean that federal courts would have to referee run-of-the-mill decisions in the public workplace. Such an undertaking, of course, would be substantial as the federal government currently employees approximately 2.7 million civilian employees.
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