Plaintiff Nichols worked for the Washoe County School District for nine years, her last six as an administrative assistant to the General Counsel for the district, Jeffrey Blanck.?? The District had no problems with Nichols or her job performance, but it did have problems with Blanck.?? The District transferred plaintiff to a job in Human Resources while? it? decided? whether? to? terminate? Blanck. After the transfer, plaintiff spoke with Laura Dancer, the Assistant Superintendent in charge of Human Resources, about her job security. ?Dancer told Nichols that she ?would be restored to her position as administrative assistant to general counsel, whoever that general counsel was to be.? The District?s Board of Trustees held an open meeting to discuss Blanck?s future with the District, among other items.? ?Nichols attended the meeting for an unrelated reason, and also to determine what was going to happen with [Blanck?s] position with the District.? ?After arriving at the meeting, she had the great misfortune of sitting next to Blanck.

The Board voted to terminate Blanck. ?The next day, Dancer reconsidered her promise to reinstate Nichols as the assistant to the new Legal Counsel because of her continued contact and support for Blanck.???? Aside ?from ?Nichols?s ?seat ?next ?to Blanck at the open meeting, the record provides no other reason why Dancer would reconsider her earlier statement to Nichols.?? According to Nichols, Dancer said that they were ?forced to question? her loyalty.

Nichols sued Dancer and the Washoe County School District for First Amendment retaliation, and? claimed? that? the? Defendants? violated? her First Amendment right to associate with Blanck. The? District? Court? granted? defendants?? motion for summary judgment, holding that Nichols was a ?confidential ?employee,? vulnerable? to? a patronage dismissal without regard for her First Amendment rights.? The Ninth Circuit reversed.

The Court acknowledged that the patronage dismissal doctrine allows public employers to terminate certain public employees on the basis of ?their ?political ?beliefs ?and ?loyalties.???? The District utilized this theory in granting summary judgment.? ?However, ?because Nichols was terminated for a perceived lack of personal loyalty, rather than political loyalty, we conclude that the patronage dismissal doctrine does not apply? to? her? termination.??? ?(emphasis? added). The Court remanded to the District Court so that it may conduct a traditional First Amendment analysis, utilizing the Pickering balancing test.

Nichols v. Dancer, 567 F.3d 423 (9th ?Cir. May 18, 2009) (Thomas, Wallace, Graber).