Employer Allowed To Maintain ‘No-Rehire’ Policy

Jimmy Sain worked as a highway patrolman for the Tennessee Department of Public Safety (TDS). After deciding to run for mayor of Hardeman County, Sain resigned from his TDS position in order to comply with the Tennessee law providing that “a state or local officer or employee may not be a candidate for elective office.” Upon leaving, he met with his supervisor and the Human Resources manager for the TDS to inquire about his eligibility for being rehired after the election, and was informed he would be reinstated to active duty if his bid was unsuccessful.

In 2005, the topic of political favoritism within the TDS attracted significant media attention. One newspaper article discussed a correlation between political support by members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol for current Tennessee Governor Bill Bredesen and promotions awarded to troopers. The article reported on the TDS’s “habit of making supervisors out of troopers who donated to the Governor’s campaign.” When a new colonel was appointed to run TDS, Governor Bredesen instructed him to “fix it” in regard to “politics” within the Department. TDS then adopted a policy whereby troopers who resigned to run for office in a partisan election would not be rehired, regardless of whether they won or lost.

Sain was unsuccessful in his bid to become Hardeman County mayor. When he attempted to regain his former job as a highway patrolman, TDS declined, citing the new policy adopted by the colonel. Sain then brought a free speech lawsuit against TDS, claiming he was being discriminated against because of the First Amendment activity of running for public office.

A federal court dismissed the lawsuit. The Court found that “TDS points to the testimony of the colonel in which he stated that the purpose of the rule barring reemployment was aimed at achieving the goal of a non-politicized department. Sain has presented no evidence that impugns the veracity of the colonel’s testimony about his motivations. Rather, Sain argues that the policy actually increased, rather than reduced, the politics involved in TDS’s employment decisions.

“This Court’s task is not to pass judgment on how effectively a policy implemented by a state agency achieves its goals. Instead, it need only ask whether the implementation of the policy was rational. Though this Court might disagree, it is not irrational for someone in TDS’s position to conclude that the desired image – political neutrality – might be detrimentally affected by allowing its employees to shift back and forth between candidacy for elected office and working as patrolmen. As such, it is not unreasonable for TDS to have believed that the policy would deter this practice.”

Sain v. Mitchell, 2009 WL 1457722 (W.D. Tenn. 2009).

This article appears in the July 2009 issue