A federal appeals court today tossed the First Amendment claims of a group of Boston Fire Department clerical workers passed over for promotions, saying that while it's unfortunate they may have lost out because they weren't friends with the mayor's cronies in management, that doesn't rise to the level of a violation of their First Amendment rights.
The workers alleged they were passed over repeatedly for promotions in favor of friends or members of "the Hyde Park Group" affiliated with pals of the mayor and a similar "South Boston Group."
The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston said that while the workers might have possible claims under state job laws, their allegations the activity violated their First Amendment rights against political discrimination failed - in a ruling that perhaps indicates a certain lack of understanding of how politics is done in a city where, legally speaking, there are no local political parties:
While appellants consistently apply the label "political" to the decision-making process that resulted in the challenged adverse employment actions, they use this adjective to refer to office politics and interpersonal relationships rather than the conduct of government, public policy or public controversies. In appellants' parlance, any connection to a city official or powerful figure within the BFD is a political connection or affiliation. For example, appellants assert that a friendship with the mayor's wife, dating someone who works in a city councilor's office, being the son-in-law of the mayor's righthand- man, and living on the same block as a BFD chief are all "political" connections. ...
Taken as a whole, the record before us lacks indicia of discrimination on the basis of political affiliation. There is no evidence, or even any allegation, of conflict concerning the conduct of government, public policy or public controversies. Likewise, there is no identification of any political group, party or faction with whom appellants associated, or refused to associate. The "South Boston Group" and the "Hyde Park Group" identified by appellants are at most social and familial networks loosely organized around Boston locales; there is no indication that they have any political significance.
The workers can continue to pursue a separate claim in state court under state employment laws.