Non-Disabled Deputies Lose Conspiracy Claim

The collective bargaining agreement between Multnomah County, Oregon and the Multnomah Deputy Sheriffs Association contained a “wage re-opener” clause allowing the Association to open negotiations on wages to be effective July 1, 2005. The wage negotiations dragged on, and a settlement was not reached until August 9, 2007. By its terms, the settlement only granted retroactivity to employees who were on the County’s payroll as of the date of ratification.

After the ratification of the agreement, the County and the Association executed a Memorandum of Exception which created an exception to the contract to allow two former employees who had taken disability retirement before ratification to receive the retroactive pay increase. A group of non-disabled retirees sued the County and the Association, contending that the two entities conspired to deprive them of their civil rights.

A federal court dismissed the lawsuit. The Court found that a central element of a civil rights conspiracy is that the claimant show “both a legally protected right and deprivation of that right motivated by some racial, or perhaps otherwise class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus behind the conspirators’ action.” Put another way, the Court observed, “the class that the defendant allegedly targets must be something more than a group of individuals who share a desire to engage in conduct that the civil rights defendant disfavors.”

The retirees argued that they were in a class of “non-disabled” retirees entitled to protections under the Civil Rights Act. The Court disagreed, finding that “where a plaintiff does not allege discrimination on the basis of race or membership in a suspect class, he or she has not stated a claim under the civil rights laws. Because the retirees have not alleged membership in any suspect class, they have no cognizable claim against either the County or the Association for a conspiracy to deprive them of their civil rights.”

Hadley v. Multnomah County, 2009 WL 891809 (D. Or. 2009).

This article appears in the May 2009 issue