In Mt. Healthy v. Doyle, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal appeals court ruling that reinstated a teacher’s position with back pay when the teacher had been dismissed by the board of education based, in part, on constitutionally protected speech.
In the case at hand, a teacher had made a phone call to the media complaining of actions taken by the board of education. The board then sought to dismiss the teacher based on the phone call and other actions brought to the attention of the board by school administrators.
Before making its finding on the protected speech issue, the Supreme Court addressed issues of jurisdiction and immunity. First, the Court held that in order to meet the damages requirements of 28 U.S.C. Section 1331, at the time the suit was filed it was far from a ‘‘legal certainty’’ that the teacher would not have been entitled to an amount in satisfaction of Section 1331. Second, the Court found that a board of education is not immune from suit because it is ‘‘more like a county or city than it is an arm of the state.’’
Finally, the Court held that although the teacher had engaged in protected speech, the other complaints brought up by the board of education could have been sufficient to sustain the dismissal; because the board did not need a reason to dismiss the untenured teacher, the district court should not have put the teacher in a better position than he would have been in if he had not engaged in protected speech.
DAVID M. CARR
Cases and Statutes Cited