A former state lawmaker agreed Wednesday to drop her federal civil rights lawsuit against a former colleague whom she said violated her free speech rights by not hiring her for a job on the staff of a state legislative committee.
Former state Rep. Sheryl Albers had claimed that now-former state Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat, didn't hire her as committee clerk for the Joint Finance Committee in 2009 because she is a Republican.
Instead, state lawyers representing Pocan said that Albers was not hired for the job because as a former state legislator she had a history of partisan activity when the job required nonpartisanship.
Albers' lawyer, Jeff Scott Olson, said Thursday that a ruling issued in the case in September by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb made Albers' case much more difficult to prove. In the ruling, Crabb wrote that if a government employer can ban partisan activities during employment in a nonpartisan civil service job, then it can consider a job applicant's history of partisan activity in making a hiring decision.
"The committee clerk needs to be nonpartisan and maintain a reputation for being nonpartisan, because the clerk must work closely with committee members from both political parties and co-chairs from both parties," Crabb wrote.
"That put us in a position of having to prove that she was rejected because she was a Republican," Olson said. "That was a much higher burden than we thought we had going in."
Meeting that burden would have been difficult, Olson said, after learning that Pocan had hired some Republicans to positions.
In a stipulation agreeing to dismiss the case with prejudice, meaning that Albers cannot refile the lawsuit, she also agreed to withdraw pending complaints before the state Equal Rights Division and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.
Olson said that Albers believed that with her education and experience in the Legislature from 1991 to 2009, she was far and away the most qualified candidate for the job.
"They had never announced nonpartisanship as a criterion," Olson said. "If they had, Ms. Albers might not have even applied."
After leaving the Assembly, Albers worked as a special prosecutor for the Juneau County District Attorney's Office. She is now administrative manager for the Wisconsin 4-H Foundation.
In November Pocan was elected to Congress representing Wisconsin's 2nd District.
Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, which represented Pocan, said DOJ had no comment.