Campus official fired for discriminating against police chief who voted for Trump

Campus official fired for discriminating against police chief who voted for Trump

The University of North Dakota has fired an administrator who retaliated against a campus police chief after he admitted he voted for Donald Trump. The official fired was Cara Halgren, the university’s Vice President for Student Affairs and Diversity. As the Dickinson Press reported:

University of North Dakota President Andrew Armacost has fired one of the two administrators former UND Police Chief Eric Plummer claimed discriminated against him on the basis of his political beliefs….

Plummer left his job in February shortly after filing complaints against Halgren and [Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Diversity Cassie] Gerhardt for discrimination and creating a hostile working environment over a period of four years, dating back to a conversation he had with Halgren in 2016.

That conversation, Plummer said, took place at the Northside Cafe. There, Halgren asked him who he voted for in the 2016 presidential election. According to the complaint, Plummer said the question made him feel uncomfortable, but he answered that he voted for former President Donald Trump.

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After that, Plumber said Halgren and Gerhardt’s behavior toward him changed. In the complaint, Plummer said Halgren canceled regularly scheduled breakfast meetings with him, which he said damaged his relationship with UND student affairs. Their professional relationship continued to get worse, and Plummer said he was left out of an online meeting moderated by Gerhardt, and had to work in an increasingly confrontational environment.

In August, an administrative law judge dealing with the complaints found that Halgren discriminated against Plummer on the basis of his political beliefs. The same judge, Hope Hogan, found that Gerhardt did not harass Plummer or create a hostile working environment against him.

As law professor Eugene Volokh notes at Reason Magazine,

The First Amendment generally bars the firing of government employees for their political affiliation, which would include voting. There is an exception for certain positions for which political affiliation is seen as a legitimate criterion—think chiefs of staff for elected officials, or cabinet officers or their top deputies—but I doubt that it would apply to a police chief at a university.

North Dakota actually makes it a crime (“interference with elections”) to “by economic coercion” “[i]njure[], intimidate[], or interfere[] with another because the other individual is or has been voting for any candidate or issue.” That would apply, I think, to firing someone based on how he voted; query whether it applies to discrimination in assignment of job duties and opportunities within the organization. (Nearly all states have some statutes protecting employees against a considerable range of private and public employer retaliation based on voting.)

North Dakota state law also bars all employers, government or otherwise, from firing employees based on off-duty off-working-hours “lawful activity,” which would include voting (and other political activity).

North Dakota’s “human rights” statutes state that: “[No employer may discriminate against an employee or applicant] because of … participation in a lawful activity that is off the employer’s premises and that takes place during nonworking hours…[unless that participation is] in direct conflict with the essential business-related  interests of the employer … [or] contrary to a bona fide occupational qualification that reasonably and rationally relates to employment activities and the responsibilities of a particular employee or group of employees, rather than to all employees of that employer.” (See North Dakota Century Code §§ 1402.403 & 14-02.4-08).

The former campus police chief, Plummer, left the University of North Dakota for a position at Radford University in Virginia in early 2021.

In Plummer’s complaint, a copy of which was obtained by The College Fix, he said Halgren created a “hostile and toxic environment” for him after she found out he voted for Trump.  Plummer said he felt obligated to answer Halgren’s question about who he voted for, because she outranked him.

“As Cara is a Vice President, I did not feel I could not answer, as at the time I was not comfortable answering; however, due to our longstanding business relationship, I told Cara who I had voted for in the election based on her request. She then continued ‘how could you have voted for that man?’”

Plummer described how he had been left out of COVID-19 planning meetings. In one meeting in January, Halgren acknowledged that she changed the way she interacted with Plummer because of his political beliefs. At that meeting, she told other administrators that she “could not change the way she feels just to get along.”

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for CNSNews.com and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at hfb138@yahoo.com

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