Nichols v. Dancer

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: 09-15-2011
  • Case #: 10-15359
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge McKeown for the Court; Circuit Judges Reavley and Paez.
  • Full Text Opinion

When a school district fails to produce evidence that their former employee was disloyal, disrupted the office, or was reasonably likely to disrupt the office in the future, and sanctioned her for showing up at a public meeting and sitting next to another former employer, the sanctioned employee’s First Amendment protection outweighs the district’s interest in workplace efficiency.

Nichols worked for the Washoe County School District (District) for nine years, the last six years serving as an administrative assistant to the District’s General Counsel, Blanck. In 2003, a dispute arose over allegations by Blanck that District Superintendent Hager had misused district funds. After Blanck was suspended as General Counsel, Nichols was told to no longer take direction from Blanck, and that she should only take direction from Hager or Dancer. Nichols spent time temporarily working in the Human Resources, while decisions were being made regarding the future of the General Counsel’s office. A public meeting was held and Nichols attended and sat next to Blanck, although she did not speak to him. The following day, Nichols was told by Dancer that she would not be returned to the General Counsel’s office because she had attended the public meeting and because there were questions regarding her loyalty to the district. She could remain in Human Resources with her salary frozen or take early retirement. Nichols took early retirement, and filed a 42 USC 1982 lawsuit claiming she had been demoted in violation of her First Amendment rights. The District’s motion for summary judgment was granted. Nichols appeals to the Ninth Circuit to determine if summary judgment was properly granted. The Ninth Circuit determined that there was no evidence Nichols was disloyal, had disrupted office or was even likely to disrupt office in the future, and that the District failed to produce evidence that the District’s interest in an efficient workplace outweighed Nichols’s First Amendment rights. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

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