(CN) – The Washoe County School District is not immune from claims that it fired an employee based on her perceived lack of loyalty to a new supervisor, the 9th Circuit ruled.
The case involved Kathleen Nichols, who worked for the district for nine years, her last six as an administrative assistant to the general counsel for the district. When Nichols’ boss was fired by the school board, Nichols was also let go because she was friends with her former boss and continued to communicate with him.
Nichols sued the school district for retaliation, claiming it violated her First Amendment right to associate with her former boss.
The district court dismissed the case under the patronage dismissal doctrine, which allows public employers to fire certain employees on the basis of their political beliefs and loyalties.
Judge Thomas of the San Francisco-based appeals court ruled that the patronage dismissal doctrine does not immunize public employers who fire employees on the basis of perceived lack of personal loyalty, rather than political loyalty.
The court reversed and remanded “for reconsideration of the claims under the traditional First Amendment government employee analysis,” Thomas wrote.