SCHULZ v. GREEN COUNTY (July 20, 2011)

Wisconsin law requires each county in the state to provide defined juveniles services through a juvenile-intake worker. Green County is a small Wisconsin County on the Illinois border. Due to its size, it can employ its juvenile-intake worker through its court system or its Human Services Department. The Green County Circuit Court employed Sheila Schulz as the County's juvenile-intake worker from 1997 to 2008. During that time, she supervised some part-time employees. She was making $26.99 per hour in 2008. As part of a cost-cutting effort, the Green County Board of Supervisors eliminated Schulz's job and created a new job within the Human Services Department with much the same responsibilities, except it did not include supervising other employees. The County hired Schulz to fill that position at an hourly rate of $19.28. Schulz brought suit against the County, alleging that its actions deprived her of a property interest without due process in violation of § 1983. Chief Judge Conley (W.D. Wis.) granted summary judgment to the County. Schulz appeals.

In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook, Circuit Judge Bauer, and District Judge Young affirmed. The Court admitted the general rule that a government employee who can be removed from her position only for cause has a property interest in that position and may not be fired from it without due process. A corollary to the general rule, however, is the reorganization rule. If a government eliminates a position, there is no longer anything in which one can have a property interest. But the Court noted that the reorganization rule might not apply if the reorganization only affects a single person. In that case, the reorganization might simply be a pretext. The record in this case does not support the notion that the County's reorganization was a pretext to fire Schulz. First, the undisputed record shows nothing but that the County reorganized to save money. Second, if the purpose of the reorganization was to get rid of Schulz, the County would not have hired her to fill the new position.