Friday, January 25, 2008

No claim for e-mail firing

A tourism PR director who says he was fired for sending e-mails to various state officials cannot sue those officials for his termination, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said yesterday in ruling on the director’s civil rights suit.

Public relations director L. Meriwether German worked for the Shenandoah Valley Travel Association, a private non-profit that promotes tourism in the Valley. When members of the association complained to German about the temporary relocation of an Interstate 81 welcome center, German fired off a series of e-mails with the SVTA signature block to a Virginia state senator, a VDOT employee and to Alisa Bailey, president of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, a state agency.

In his suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, German alleged that state employee Bailey, who was unhappy with the e-mails, coerced private actors into firing him. She allegedly told German’s boss to get him to “back off.”

Private action sometimes can be attributed to the state, the 4th Circuit said in its unpublished per curiam opinion in German v. Fox. But even when a private entity is heavily regulated by or receives funding from the state, that relationship doesn’t necessarily translate into state action.

German could not show that Bailey, despite her alleged close connection with his superiors, ordered that German be fired, or that she wanted or expected him to be fired, the 4th Circuit said. It upheld U.S. District Judge Glen Conrad’s dismissal of the suit.

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