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July 28 — A former deputy district attorney who alleged he was forced out for supporting a judge who ran against the current DA in a 2006 election doesn't have triable claims for political bias and retaliation under the First Amendment, a federal court ruled ( Maner v. Cty. of Stanislaus , 2016 BL 242500, E.D. Cal., No. 1:14-cv-01014, 7/26/16 ).
Douglas Maner publicly supported ex-judge Michael Cummins in the election. He claimed he was no longer assigned trial work, was suspended, compelled to write apology letters and repeatedly reprimanded after Birgit Fladager was elected.
Stanislaus County, Calif., argued that Maner was actually fired because of an unprecedented number of increasingly serious complaints from clerical staff, judges, law enforcement and a murder victim's next of kin. Among the complaints were that Maner called a clerk a “fucking bitch” and an “idiot,” and reduced a paralegal to tears, the county alleged.
Maner simply couldn't show a connection between his discipline and his support of Cummins, Judge Dale Drozd of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled July 27. The evidence “establishes that no one else acted as poorly in their professional interpersonal relationships,” he wrote.
Although Maner “was disciplined many times for things he said, and particularly for his inability to articulate himself without offending those around him,” there's no evidence of bias or retaliatory motive, the court wrote.
The decision illustrates an important distinction between political discrimination cases, generally brought under the First Amendment, and the more typical bias cases based on race, sex and other protected characteristics, brought under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Title VII discrimination or retaliation cases require complainants to show that an “adverse employment action,” or something that significantly changes their working conditions, was taken against them. Discrimination or retaliation alleged under the First Amendment, though, only requires a complainant to show the denial of even a trivial benefit, or the imposition of a trivial burden.
Maner was a strong lawyer whose performance “was consistently plagued by complaints, administrative investigations and disciplinary actions,” the county argued. He started the job in 1991, and all but three of his annual performance reviews noted issues with interpersonal relationships, the county said.
In separate instances, Maner called a clerical employee incompetent in open court; urinated a few feet from a female painter working in the bathroom; and wrote e-mails to police units criticizing their work, Drozd wrote.
Additionally, a victim's relative complained that Maner had been ignoring her, mistreated her, and requested that he be removed from her case. A juvenile court judge also wrote a letter to the DA saying Maner “is simply a bully” and won't be tolerated, the county alleged.
In its briefings, the county called Maner “arrogant and condescending,” rude and “demeaning.”
Maner ultimately resigned “with no notice” while disciplinary proceedings against him continued. He opened a private criminal defense firm the next day, the county said.
The court also dismissed Maner's state law retaliation claim and a claim for due process violations.
Penner & Bradley represented Maner. Liebert Cassidy Whitmore represented the county and Fladager.
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