7th Circuit: County didn't violate rights of paralegal fired for refusing to attend funeral.

Byline: Michaela Paukner, mpaukner@wislawjournal.com

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Trempealeau County District Attorney's Office did not violate the rights of a paralegal who was fired for refusing to attend a funeral.

On Wednesday, Judges Kenneth F. Ripple, Michael S. Kanne and David F. Hamilton affirmed a decision from the Western District granting summary judgment to Trempealeau County and its former district attorney, Taavi McMahon.

In2017, McMahon decided to close his office to allow employees to attend the funeral of Gerald Fox, the Jackson County district attorney who had died unexpectedly. Nancy Knudtson, a paralegal who had worked for the county for more than 45 years, told McMahon that she and two other employees would rather work than attend the funeral. She said she did not want to use her vacation time to attend and had a meeting with a law enforcement officer at the same time.

After the county's corporation counsel told McMahon he must keep the office open, McMahon told the three employees he was still going to close the office. Two of the employees agreed to go to the funeral, but Knudtson refused. She was placed on administrative leave and then terminated.

"Mr. McMahon took issue with Ms. Knudtson's decision and both dug in their heels for what became a bitter dispute," Ripple wrote in the 7th Circuit's opinion.

Knudtson filed a complaint in the Western District alleging a violation of her rights under the Establishment Clause because the funeral took place at a church and involved a religious service. The district court rejected the claim under her proposed theories of the coercion test and the primary effect prong of the Lemon test.

The judge decided neither the county nor McMahon had coerced her to participate in a religious activity because she had the choice to attend the funeral or be placed on administrative leave. She also never objected on religious grounds.As for the primary effect argument under the Lemon test, the district court concluded that McMahon's and the county's actions did not have the primary effect of establishing or inhibiting religion.


To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT