Tuesday, June 10, 2008

No "Class-Of-One" Claims For Public Sector Employees

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court held that the “class-of-one” theory of Equal Protection does not apply in the public employment context. The case is Engquist v Oregon Department of Agriculture and can be found here.

In Engquist, the Court held that a public employee may not claim that he or she was arbitrarily treated differently from other, similarly situated employees (thereby violating Equal Protection) where there is no assertion that the different treatment was based on the employee’s membership in any particular class. In other words, absent an allegation of different treatment based upon class status (e.g., race, gender, national origin, religion, etc.), there can be no claim for a violation of Constitutional Equal Protection based solely upon the differing treatment. It's "members only." Period. End of story.

This is an interesting case as the Court noted that public sector employers have more leeway in managing operations than those in the private sector. Essentially, allowing a “class-of-one” theory to be applied in the public sector would likely interfere with the ability of government to manage its workforce, and could imbue every employment decision with Constitutional import. Here's my translation ... government and the taxpayer cannot afford to defend expensive lawsuits concerning minor, work-related matters (such as a personality conflict between an employee and a Supervisor) where the claim does not rise to generally accepted levels of workplace discrimination as defined by statute.

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