Deeren v. Anderson

August 11, 2023

Federal Appellate Court Rejects Officer’s Political Retaliation Suit

Running against your boss for public office is not always the wisest career choice. Dirt is dug up and used aggressively to level public criticism against each other. But that is often the nature of political discourse. And political discourse by both sides is protected by the First Amendment.

In Deeren v. Anderson, 72 F.4th 229 (7th Cir. 2023), a deputy sheriff claimed that he was subjected to employment retaliation because he ran for office against the sheriff. He was demoted for on duty related misconduct and termination charges were filed against him for dishonesty and insubordination relating to his failure to disclose that he had been arrested and charged with criminal sexual assault when he was hired for the job years earlier. During the campaign, the sheriff criticized the deputy for being a “bad guy” and that he was “no good.” Other statements were made that affected his future employment prospects. The deputy ultimately lost the election and then sued the sheriff claiming that he was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment for the sheriff. Among other reasons, the court held that the sheriff’s negative comments about the deputy during the campaign “were simply the kinds of critiques that come with the territory of running for office. And criticism – even in the form of condemnation – is not enough. Further, the sheriff “retained his own First Amendment right to express opinions” of the deputy who was running for public office. In the end, the deputy failed to show that there was a viable campaign of retaliation motivated by his political speech.