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Friday, June 12, 2015

Elected Officials Protected by Immunity for Refusing to Reappoint Employee

In a recent case, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against an employee who claimed that he was not reappointed to his position because he objected to a variety of decisions by the elected officials who had authority over his appointment. Werkheiser v. Pocono Township (3d Cir. 2015).

Werkheiser was as an elected member of the Pocono Township Board of Supervisors.  The Township Board had the authority to appoint a "roadmaster" for the Township, an employee position respnosible for the supervision of the road and parks department of the Township. Members of the Board of Supervisors are permitted to also serve as roadmaster, and Werkheiser was appointed, and served, in that position from 2008-2012.  In 2012, he was replaced, and he sued the Township and the other two members of the Board of Supervisors who voted to replace him, claiming that they violated his First Amendment rights by denying his reappointment as roadmaster.  He alleged that he had voiced objections to the hiring and compensation of the Township Administrator, and a new grant-writer.  

The two other Board members filed a motion to dismiss the case, claiming that they were entitled to qualified immunity from the First Amendment claim and that because Werkheiser's "speech" was made in his official capacity, it was not protected by the First Amendment under the Supreme Court's decision in Garcetti v. Ceballos. Therefore, the elected officials were protected by immunity for its actions.  The Third Circuit accepted this argument, and held that the two Board members who voted not to reappoint Werkheiser were shielded from liability from the First Amendment claim.  The Court also rejected Werkheiser's argument that he was retaliated against when he was not reappointed.  The Court noted that Werkheiser's position on the Board of Supervisors was not affected by the Board's actions to remove him from his roadmaster position.  Thus, the Board members were immune from liability for any alleged retaliatory actions as well.

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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