Government workers can sue for political retaliation

gp-political symbolsThe First Amendment of the Constitution says that the government can’t punish you for your political views. But did you know that that means that if you’re a public employee, your employer can’t mistreat you for supporting the “wrong” candidate?

For instance, four employees of the Michigan racing commission supported the Republican candidate for governor in the 2006 election – who went on to lose.

The employees claimed that after the election, their Democratic bosses retaliated against them by making negative changes to their job duties and working conditions, in one case eliminating a position. They sued the state for “political affiliation discrimination.”

The state argued that the workers couldn’t sue because they had no formal affiliation with the Republican Party or with the losing candidate.

But a federal appeals court sided with the workers, and said no formal affiliation is necessary as long as the bosses mistreated the workers because of a “perceived” political preference.

Take note, though – the First Amendment protects workers only from actions by the government. If a private company punishes workers for their political views, the First Amendment doesn’t apply.

Private employees might have some recourse, however, especially if a company policy or union agreement bars retaliation for political activities.