Court Upholds Rule Banning Contact with Former Inmates

Dennis Harris was a deputy sheriff for Butler County, Ohio. When he was terminated, Harris filed a lawsuit contending that he was fired in retaliation for supporting the Sheriff’s opponent in a recent election. Harris asserted that the Sheriff complained that Harris had never campaigned for him, and was angry because Harris attended a hog roast fundraiser for former Sheriff Don Gabbard that was held at Harris’ church.

A federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of the lawsuit. The Court found that even if Harris could establish a prima facie case of retaliation, the County had presented evidence that Harris’ violation of its “associations” policy led to his termination.

Specifically, the County showed that Harris obtained contact information from jail records for a former inmate, Tabitha Holland. Harris called Holland on several occasions in the months after her release from jail, and met with her on one occasion, resulting in an encounter that led Holland to complain to the Sheriff’s Department.

The Court reasoned that “Harris stated that he knew he could be terminated for his contacts with Holland. The County’s interest in preventing exploitive relationships between its employees and former inmates constitutes a legitimate reason supporting the termination of Harris. Harris has not come forward with evidence permitting a trier of fact to conclude that Butler County would not have terminated him absent protected conduct on his part.”

Harris v. Butler County, Ohio, 2009 WL 2628501 (6th Cir. 2009).

This article appears in the November 2009 issue