Bogart v. Vermilion County, Illinois, 112618 FED7, 18-1719

Docket Nº:18-1719
Opinion Judge:Scudder, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Nicole Bogart, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Vermilion County, Illinois, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Judge Panel:Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Sykes and Scudder, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:November 26, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Nicole Bogart, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Vermilion County, Illinois, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 18-1719

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

November 26, 2018

Argued October 26, 2018

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. l:16-cv-01088 - Colin S. Bruce, Judge.

Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Sykes and Scudder, Circuit Judges.

Scudder, Circuit Judge.

Nicole Bogart, a Democrat, worked as the Financial Resources Director of Vermilion County, Illinois, but her tenure ended when Michael Marron, a Republican, assumed control of the County Board and fired her. She responded by bringing claims under the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause, alleging that Vermilion County and Marron violated her right of political affiliation and engaged in political retaliation. The district court dismissed the equal protection claim as duplicative of the First Amendment claim, and, after finding that the substantial fiscal and budgetary responsibilities of Bogart's position fit within the Elrod-Branti exception to political patronage dismissals, granted summary judgment for the defendants on her First Amendment claim. We affirm.

I

In July 2007 Vermilion County hired Bogart as its Financial Resources Director. Bogart, herself a Democrat, replaced the prior Financial Resources Director who had ties to the Republican Party and was fired shortly after a Democrat ousted the then-Republican Board Chairman in 2006.

At the time it hired Bogart, the County had in place a written description of responsibilities of the Financial Resources Director. The description explained that the Director "[r ]eports to and performs work at the direction of the County Board Chairman and assists the Finance Committee in their meetings and ensures that information about the County's finances is available to board members," "[d]evelops both long and short-range financial plans involving revenue and expenditure projects," "[c]onducts budget preparation, review, and control," and "[e]xercises on-going budget analysis by tracking expenditures and reviewing requests for line item transfers." In her deposition testimony, Bogart confirmed that she performed many of the responsibilities delineated in the written job description.

In 2012 several Republican candidates won election to the County Board, giving Republicans majority control and thus the power to select the Chairman for the first time during Bogart's tenure. The newly-selected Republican Chairman, Gary Weinard, served from 2012 to 2014. At the outset of his tenure, Weinard asked Bogart to prepare a description of her responsibilities as the Financial Resources Director. Several of the responsibilities she listed in her written response mirrored those in the County's formal job description. For example, Bogart wrote that she "[c]onducts budget preparation, review and control," "[p]repares the fiscal year budget for public review and adoption," "[c]reates 23 of the County's 109 budgets and monitors them monthly," "[a]nalyzes all 109 budgets and communicates concerns, changes and historical data to Chairman of the Board, Chairman of the Finance Committee and Auditor," and "[scrutinizes expenditures, [and] continually seeks out savings and revenue opportunities."

According to Bogart, several Republican Board members urged Weinard to fire her because she was a Democrat. Weinard never did so. In December 2014, however, Weinard resigned and Michael Marron, a Republican, became Chairman. Within a month, Marron fired Bogart.

Bogart responded by bringing suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Marron and Vermilion County. She alleged that defendants' firing her constituted political retaliation and discrimination in violation of the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause.

The district court dismissed Bogart's equal protection claim as duplicative of her First Amendment claim. At the close of discovery, the district court then granted Vermilion County and Marron's motion for summary judgment on Bogart's First Amendment claim, reasoning that her job as the County's Financial Resources Director entailed substantial policymaking authority and discretion and thus fit within the exception to the First Amendment's general ban on political patronage dismissals. Bogart now appeals those determinations.

II

A

In two companion cases, the Supreme Court held that, while public employers cannot condition employment on an individual's political affiliation, an employee's First Amendment right of political association leaves room for employers to dismiss employees in positions where political loyalty is a valid job qualification. See Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S....

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