139 F.3d 386 (3rd Cir. 1998), 97-3222, Boyle v. County of Allegheny Pennsylvania

Docket Nº:97-3222.
Citation:139 F.3d 386
Party Name:Patrick J. BOYLE, Appellant, v. COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY PENNSYLVANIA; Larry Dunn, Commissioner, in his individual capacity; Bob Cranmer, Commissioner, In his individual capacity, Appellees.
Case Date:March 23, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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139 F.3d 386 (3rd Cir. 1998)

Patrick J. BOYLE, Appellant,



in his individual capacity; Bob Cranmer,

Commissioner, In his individual

capacity, Appellees.

No. 97-3222.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

March 23, 1998

Argued Nov. 17, 1997.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Samuel J. Cordes (argued), Ogg, Jones, Cordes & Ignelzi, L.L.P., Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellant.

Kurt A. Miller (argued), Terrence M. Lewis, Thorp, Reed & Armstrong, Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellees.

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Before: SCIRICA and LEWIS, Circuit Judges, and ACKERMAN, District Judge. [*]


HAROLD A. ACKERMAN, Senior District Judge:

This appeal arises out the employment termination of appellant Patrick J. Boyle ("Boyle") by the County of Allegheny, Pennsylvania from his position as Deputy Director of Marketing and Communications in the county's Department of Aviation. Boyle, a Democrat, alleged in his complaint that he was terminated based on his political affiliation in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Boyle sought reinstatement to the position of Deputy Director, various other equitable relief and compensatory and punitive damages for pain, suffering, emotional distress and humiliation resulting from his allegedly unlawful termination.

While denying that he was terminated for his political affiliation, defendants/appellees moved for summary judgment in the district court contending that even if he were, such a termination was proper under Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 96 S.Ct. 2673, 49 L.Ed.2d 547 (1976), Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507, 100 S.Ct. 1287, 63 L.Ed.2d 574 (1980), and their progeny. Boyle opposed the motion, relying in large measure on the deposition testimonies of two of the three members of the Board of Commissioners of Allegheny County. These Commissioners testified that political affiliation was not an appropriate requirement for the position of Deputy Director of Marketing and Communications.

The district court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment, concluding that the deposition testimonies of the two Commissioners were not significantly probative on the question of whether political affiliation was an appropriate requirement for the position held by Boyle under Supreme Court and Third Circuit case law. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

We reverse.

I. Factual Background

The Board of Commissioners of Allegheny County has traditionally been a stronghold for the Democratic Party. For nearly fifty years, until 1995, the three-member Board was comprised of a Democratic majority. In 1995, however, two Republican Commissioners, Larry Dunn and Bob Cranmer, 1 were elected, and the Board became a Republican majority.

Boyle was hired by Allegheny County as Deputy Director in its Department of Aviation on January 21, 1986. By letter, dated December 21, 1995, Dunn and Cranmer, as Commissioners-elect, demanded plaintiff's resignation based upon their belief that "those in management and leadership positions, appointed to our new administration, share our priorities of government." When the new Republican-dominated Board took office in January, 1996, the county terminated the employment of a number of directors and deputy directors, including Boyle. Boyle contends in his suit that he was terminated because he was a registered Democrat and he supported the election campaigns of Democratic candidates for county Commissioner.

A. Job Duties and Responsibilities

The Deputy Director position was a third level management position in the governmental hierarchy in Allegheny County with respect to the Department of Aviation. Boyle reported directly to the Director, who in turn, reported to the Board of Commissioners. The positions reporting directly to the Deputy Director included the manager of public relations, senior administrative officer/capital projects, marketing analyst, information clerk supervisor and senior secretary.

At some time during his employment, Boyle drafted a job description for the position of Deputy Director of Marketing and

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Communications. 2 Boyle characterized his position as a management level staff position "designed to carry out policy decisions by the Director of Aviation and the County Commissioners ... [and to] interpret policy requirements, act and sign documents on behalf of the director, speak to news media on the record, and initiate or respond to public affairs activities as required." He was "responsible for planning, preparing, and executing all communications, marketing and development programs for the aviation system, as well as coordinating public affairs and community relations activities, and the airport public information program."

The job description listed the Deputy Director's "Major Duties" as follows:

(1) Supervise and manage all activities of the marketing, community relations, and public information functions of the aviation system.

(2) Develop and prepare written material for public dissemination, including news releases, marketing reports, newsletters and correspondence.

(3) Maintain contact with prospective and present clients and tenants.

(4) Develop and coordinate program to deal with complaints, passenger relations with airport tenants, and other travelers' concerns, especially insofar as these activities affect airport operations and maintenance.

(5) Monitor and review any airport problem that may be apparent to the public, and advise the appropriate section of such problems and any public relations ramifications.

(6) Observe and interpret accidents, emergencies, and disaster scenes to determine how best to handle the response by news media.

(7) Coordinate and authorize news coverage of any activity in the airport, assist the news media in covering events and staff the emergency communications center when necessary and provide needed logistical support to media.

(8) Serve as authorized airport spokesman.

(9) Manage or assist special projects required to support airport mission, for instance, dedicating new buildings, hosting VIP tours, sponsoring seminars, etc.

(10) Coordinate airport initiatives and responses in rate cases, new service opportunities, development projects, etc.

(11) Oversee information clerks and disbursal of information from airport information desks. Regulate material given out at information desks.

(12) Prepare correspondence for director and commissioners.

(13) Advise Director and Commissioners about protocol, background and ramifications of events, opportunities, proposals, etc.

(14) Develop and manage programs for airport tours and speakers' bureau. Liaison with tenants to include wide array of resources for public information.

(15) Stand in for the Director at Commissioners' meetings in his absence.

(16) Develop in-service training programs and other educational programs to educate staff and maintain current awareness of significant issues.

(17) Approve all information from the Department that will be disseminated to the public.

(18) Maintain logs of tours, visitors, speakers, meetings, events and airport business, and prepare reports reflecting all airport activities on a regular basis for Director and Commissioners.

(19) Liaison with regional groups such as Penns Southwest, Chamber of Commerce, R.I.D.C., Convention & Visitors Bureau, and business groups.

(20) Manage contracts and programs to market and promote the airports, the County or the region, including supervision of consultants for advertising, marketing, promotion, etc.

In addition, Boyle completed a "Job Evaluation Questionnaire" in May, 1994 which,

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among other things, asked him to describe "the specific duties and responsibilities involved in doing your job." The top five duties and responsibilities were as follows: (1) Crisis Management/Problem Solving; (2) Media Relations; (3) Internal Communications/Information Services; (4) Policy Implementation/Advice; and (5) Community Relations/Public Affairs. Boyle also acknowledged that a crucial part of his job was to "influence, promote and sell" to community and professional contacts. With regard to the level of guidance necessary to perform his job, Boyle checked the category "Broad," which was defined as:

With managerial responsibility, there is latitude for decision making and setting of priorities. Long range projects (over one year) are assigned which are reviewed through achievement of objectives, according to predefined goals.

Boyle also acknowledged that "the effect of typical errors made in the course of performing the duties of this job" would have a "[s]ignificant impact affecting major programs, or corporate objectives, impairing the performance of the Department of Aviation," and that he had "[c]omplete freedom for independent judgment and discretion."

A further glimpse into Boyle's duties and responsibilities is provided by letters sent by him to prospective employers. For instance, in a letter, dated November 24, 1995, to a general manager at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Boyle stated that he was hired by Allegheny County to "assist in lobbying, planning, building and dedicating a new billion dollar airport." This project, according to Boyle, involved "extensive negotiations with Federal and State officials, airlines, and the construction industry, and included considerable interaction with community groups." In another letter seeking a position at the Pittsburgh Foundation, dated May 23, 1996, Boyle stated that as Deputy Director, he "served as airport spokesman and managed all public affairs, marketing and communications."

A letter of recommendation from the...

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