Deborah Claridy’s claims that her former boss, elected Baltimore City Sheriff John Anderson, retaliated against her after she returned to work as a lieutenant upon losing to him in the 2010 Democratic primary, laid out in a First Amendment lawsuit filed in 2013, yesterday survived Anderson’s efforts to have them dismissed. But U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander granted Anderson qualified immunity, so Claridy’s goal of monetary relief to the tune of $2.5 million is barred. Instead, should Claridy win the case, she’d only be able to seek injunctions that would force Anderson to dismiss the disciplinary charges he brought against her and to purge her personnel file of all things related to them.
Hollander’s 41-page ruling sets guidelines for elected bosses whose underlings run against them and lose: if you choose not to fire the loser, and instead discipline them, you’re vulnerable to retaliation claims.
“A misconduct charge,” writes Hollander, “does not replace a politically ‘disloyal’ person with a loyal one, and, therefore, does not serve to implement the electorate’s will in the same way that discharge of ‘disloyal’ employees does,” and instead “simply communicates a judgment that the public employee has done something wrong.” And because the misconduct charges brought against Claridy were “based expressly on what she said” on the campaign trail, her lawsuit “plausibly alleges a claim for relief for violations of her right to free speech.”