Supervisor entitled to qualified immunity as to one suspended employees 1st Amendment claim but not the other
Benfield v. Magee, 18-30932, (U.S. 5th Cir. December 17, 2019)
This is a First Amendment in employment action where the U.S. 5th Circuit reversed the denial of the individual supervisor’s qualified immunity defense and dismissed the claims as to one employee, but not the other.
Warren and Benfield worked in Louisiana as paramedics for the Desoto Parish Emergency Medical Services. Louisiana paramedics must complete annual recertification training, which required the approval of the medical director. Warren asserts he suggested changes to the procedures manual which would prevent Magee, their supervisor, from electronically signing in lieu of the medical director. Warren asserts afterward Magee harassed him (including criticizing Warren’s religious beliefs, denying him a promotion, accusing him of inappropriate relationships.) When a new co-medical director inquired into the Plaintiff’s recertification, they blamed Magee for telling them to electronically falsify the records. Magee suspended Warren and Benfield for falsification. Warren and Benfield sued Magee directly, claiming that he suspended them for exercising their First Amendment free-speech and free-association rights. The trial court denied Magee’s assertion of qualified immunity and he appealed.
Warren’s letter of changes to the procedure’s manual occurred 19 months prior to his suspension. And while a plaintiff can establish a causal connection with other inferences, Warren’s allegations do virtually nothing to establish a chronology or relationship. He states that this harassment occurred sometime after the June 2015 letter, yet provides no further specificity. Warran would be unable to overcome the qualified immunity defense without stating with specificity when he was harassed. As a result, his assertions are insufficient to establish a causal connection and such claims are dismissed. However, Magee made no substantive argument for dismissing Benfield’s free-speech claim, believing Benfield raised only a freedom of association claim. As a result, the denial was proper as to Benfield.
If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Stewart, Clement and Ho. Opinion by Justice Clement. The attorney listed for Magee is Edwin H. Byrd. The attorney listed for Warren and Benfield is Bryce J. Denny.