A political discrimination lawsuit filed by Teresa Wagner can go forward, according to the 8th Circuit. Wagner, a conservative Republican, applied for a professorship at the University of Iowa College of Law in 2006.
Despite being qualified for the job, she was not hired. She believes that the law school's dean, along with its faculty hiring committee, denied her the position after learning of her active involvement in "socially conservative causes."
The court unanimously agreed that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the hiring decision was "in part motivated by Wagner's constitutionally protected First Amendment rights of political belief and association."
The court's decision, though not surprising, is a bit unique. Political affiliation is not a protected characteristic under federal employment statutes. Moreover, there are only a few states or localities that outlaw employment-related political discrimination.
However, there is one glaring exception. In Rutan v. Republican Party of Ill., the Supreme Court ruled that state and federal entities may not engage in political discrimination when making most employment decisions.
To do so both punishes employees for their political beliefs and attempts to coerce them into another set of beliefs. Such practices therefore infringe upon the First Amendment's right of association and political speech.
Because Iowa Law is a public school, it must abide by this rule. But remember that only the government -- or someone acting behalf of the government -- can violate the First Amendment. If Iowa Law was a private university, it's unlikely that Teresa Wagner would have a case.
- Eighth Circuit Revives Discrimination Suit against Law School Dean (Wall Street Journal)
- How does freedom of speech protect a public employee? (FindLaw)
- Legalese 101: Freedom of Speech (FindLaw's Law & Daily Life)