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Animal Officer Can be Fired for Political Reasons

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 14, 2012 12:03 PM

Larry Davis was terminated from his position as Senior Humane Officer (SHO) for Anderson, Indiana after refusing to support Kris Ockomon's successful mayoral campaign. Sounds shady, right?

According to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, it may be shady, but it is still legal.

Last week, the appellate court affirmed a district court decision that Davis could be dismissed for political reasons because he held a policymaking position.

Before we expend too much effort sympathizing with Davis, there are three things we have to keep in mind.

  1. Davis didn't spend his whole life dreaming of becoming SHO; he was appointed after he worked on Mark Lawler's successful mayoral campaign. He requested numerous other positions, all of which were filled by other candidates.
  2. Davis ousted the previous SHO, Pam Marshall, when Mark Lawler appointed him. Marshall, just like Davis, sued, claiming she could not be replaced based on political affiliation. Marshall eventually settled.
  3. During his SHO tenure, Davis sought assurances from city officials that he couldn't be replaced for political reasons because he didn't want to suffer Marshall's fate. (Hypocritical, right?)

Davis claimed that the city violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by replacing him for political reasons.

Applying Riley v. Blagojevich, the district court first determined that the official job description controlled the analysis of whether Davis could be replaced for political reasons; the job description was deemed reliable because it had been created by an independent consulting firm. Since the job description included a number of duties involving significant discretionary authority, the district court found that Davis was a policy-maker, and that therefore his termination was proper.

Davis appealed, and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that city ordinances authorized the SHO to exercise policymaking discretion, so Davis could be dismissed for political reasons.

Davis isn't the only loser in this case; the animals of Anderson also received bad news from the court. According to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Davis' successor, Larry Russell, was "as equally unqualified for the position as Davis had been when he was appointed in 1988."

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