(CN) – County officials in Virginia are entitled to qualified immunity over an employee’s claim that a Democrat-driven governing board refused to hire her as the director of social services because she is a member of the Republican Party.
Tammy Fields claimed that although she was the most qualified applicant for the job, but she didn’t get it based on her political affiliation. According to her lawsuit, five Democratic members of the seven-member local administrative board conspired with five Democratic members of the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors to block her from being hired. Instead, county officials allegedly hired a Democratic Party loyalist.
U.S. District Judge Norman Moon denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment based on immunity.
On appeal, a three-judge panel in Richmond, Va., reversed the denial of qualified immunity.
“We conclude that the First Amendment prohibits consideration of political affiliation in hiring decisions for positions like the one at issue here,” Judge Wilkinson wrote. “To hold otherwise would impose prohibitive costs on the exercise of associative rights and political speech.
“However, because this conclusion was not clearly established at the time of the decision under existing law, we think the defendants entitled to the qualified immunity they seek.