Employees of county-funded private businesses whose positions are cut by the county in retaliation for exercising their freedom of speech have no retaliatory discharge claim against the county. In Kensington Volunteer Fire Department, Inc. v. Montgomery County, the Fourth Circuit affirmed a Maryland federal court’s dismissal of retaliatory discharge claims brought by former employees of a private company that provided fire, rescue, and emergency services. The plaintiffs claimed that the county cut funding for their positions in retaliation for their opposition to ambulance fee legislation, which would have provided the county with a significant new source of revenue. Among other things, the employees claimed that by eliminating funding for their positions, the county was liable for abusive discharge under Maryland common law.
In affirming the district court’s decision to dismiss the employees’ claims, the court of appeals noted that the employees did not work directly for the county, even though their jobs were entirely dependent on county funding. The court concluded that, despite the fact that the county’s actions resulted in the employees’ termination, the county itself did not actually make the decision to fire the employees. Therefore, the employees lacked any abusive discharge claim against the county under Maryland law. This case shows that contractor employees do not have an employment claim against the government, even if the government intentionally defunds their positions.