The Class of One Theory of Equal Protection has No Application in the Public Hiring Context
Douglas Asphalt Co. v. Qore, Inc., 541 F.3d 1269 (11th Cir. Sept. 2, 2008)
In Douglas Asphalt, a highway paving contractor sued State Department of Transportation officials, in their individual capacity, under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. The contractor claimed that the Department wrongfully singled out the contractor and treated it differently than other paving contractors in violation of the equal protection clause. The contractor argued that the officials were not shielded from liability by their qualified immunity defense because the contractor was alleging a “class of one” equal protection claim.
The Eleventh Circuit disagreed and held that the reasoning behind the U.S Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in Engquist v. Oregon, 128 S. Ct. 2146 (2008), a government-employee relationship case, applied in the government contractor context. Specifically, there is a “crucial difference between the government exercising its power to regulate or license, as lawmaker, and the government acting as proprietor to manage its internal operation.” Employment decision making, including the hiring of government contractors, is “often subjective and individualized, resting on a wide array of factors that are difficult to articulate and quantify.” Thus, the class of one theory of equal protection has no application in the public hiring context—otherwise every government hiring decision would become a constitutional matter.