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Supreme Court Rules for Public Employers in Equal Protection Case

The U.S. Supreme Court sided with public employers in a decision today that will restrict workers from suing over alleged job discrimination based on arbitrary or vindicative reasons aimed just at them.

The court's decision was 6-3 in Engquist v. Oregon Department of Agriculture (Case No. 07-474).

The issue before the justices in the case involved whether public employees may press federal lawsuits under the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause when an adverse job action is based on subjective or malicious reasons targeted only at them. Such a suit is called a “class of one” claim.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said that "ratifying a class-of-one theory of equal protection in the context of public employment would impermissibly
constitutionalize the employee grievance."

Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.

The case was being watched closely by school groups. The National Education Association had filed this friend-of-the-court brief on the side of the worker in the Oregon dispute, while the the National School Boards Association had filed this brief on the side of the state.

I wrote about the oral arguments in the case here.

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