Today a unanimous three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit handed down an important class-of-one opinion, Lauth v. McCollum,
No. 04-3782. Under the Equal Protection Clause, no person can be
denied equal protection of the laws. Generally, the Equal Protection
Clause only applies where a person can show that he is a) part of a
protected class, and b) is being discriminated against because of his
class membership. A couple of years ago the Supreme Court held that a
person not belonging to a protected class could sue under the Equal
Protection Clause if a government actor treated him irrationally and
differently. The person being mistreated belongs to a "class of one."
In other words, under the "class of one" theory, it violates the Equal
Protection Clause for a government actor to treat you differently than
others similarly situated, just because the government official doesn't
Let's say "George" wants to build a deck. His permit application is
denied because someone at city hall hates his guts, but George's
neighbor's permit application is granted. George can sue under a class-of-one theory since he has been treated differently from others
similarly situated (in this case, homeowners), and because his
disparate treatment was irrational.
At issue in Lauth was whether an employee can sue under a
class of one Equal Protection theory. The panel virtually eliminated
class-of-one cases brought by government employees. It's a short
opinion, so click here to read the panel's reasoning.