Columbus Ed. Ass'n v. Columbus City School Dist.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Citation623 F.2d 1155
Docket NumberNo. 77-3613,77-3613
Parties105 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2016 COLUMBUS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, on behalf of itself and its members; and Andrew B. Meilton, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. COLUMBUS CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Virginia E. Printice, President of the Board of Education; Dr. David D. Hamlar, Margie Castleman, Paul R. Langdon, Thomas J. Moyer, Marilyn Redden and Dr. Watson H. Walker, Members of the Board of Education; John E. Ellis, Superintendent; and C. E. Pollock, Principal, on behalf of himself and all other principals employed by the Columbus City School District; individually and in their official capacities, Defendants-Appellees.
Decision Date30 June 1980

Page 1155

623 F.2d 1155
105 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2016
COLUMBUS EDUCATION ASSOCIATION, on behalf of itself and its
members; and Andrew B. Meilton, on behalf of
himself and all others similarly
situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
COLUMBUS CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Virginia E. Printice,
President of the Board of Education; Dr. David D. Hamlar,
Margie Castleman, Paul R. Langdon, Thomas J. Moyer, Marilyn
Redden and Dr. Watson H. Walker, Members of the Board of
Education; John E. Ellis, Superintendent; and C. E. Pollock,
Principal, on behalf of himself and all other principals
employed by the Columbus City School District; individually
and in their official capacities, Defendants-Appellees.
No. 77-3613.
United States Court of Appeals,
Sixth Circuit.
Argued Jan. 30, 1980.
Decided June 30, 1980.

Page 1156

Leonard J. Schwartz, Schwartz & Fishman, Columbus, Ohio, Jerry D. Anker, Wald, Harkrader & Ross, Robert S. Chanin, Washington, D. C., for plaintiffs-appellants.

Lawrence H. Braun, Columbus, Ohio, Russell Leach, Bricker, Evatt, Barton & Eckler, G. Roger King, Columbus, Ohio, for defendants-appellees.

Before MERRITT, MARTIN and JONES, Circuit Judges.

NATHANIEL R. JONES, Circuit Judge.

Andrew Meilton, a junior high school teacher in the Columbus City School System, was reprimanded by his supervising principal for engaging in "unprofessional conduct" while acting in his capacity as building representative of the Columbus Education Association. Meilton filed suit in the federal district court alleging that the letter of reprimand placed in his personnel file by his principal was predicated on Meilton's zealous advocacy as a union representative of a fellow teacher's complaint. The district court, after a nonjury trial, entered judgment for defendants, holding that the principal's letter of reprimand was not motivated by a desire to curtail or penalize Meilton's expression of free speech. 1 Because

Page 1157

we hold that the district court improperly applied to this case the Supreme Court's decision in Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 96 S.Ct. 2074, 48 L.Ed.2d 684 (1976), and erred in its failure to apply the test in Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 97 S.Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977), we reverse.

I.

Plaintiffs are the Columbus Education Association ("CEA"), the recognized collective bargaining representative for teachers in Columbus, Ohio, and Meilton, the CEA building representative at Barrett Junior High School. 2 The named defendants are the Columbus City School District, its Superintendent, each of the members of the Columbus Board of Education, and Charles Pollock, Principal of the Barrett School.

On Friday, February 15, 1974, Judy Davis, the school librarian, disciplined two students for making excessive noise in the school's main office. Davis attempted to quiet the students, touching one of them in the process. Donald Newman, the Vice Principal, observed this interaction and asked Davis to step into his office. Newman criticized Davis' disciplining of the two students. Later that day Davis related these events to Meilton. Meilton, in his capacity as the CEA building representative, requested a meeting with Charles Pollock and Judy Davis to discuss the matter. A meeting was scheduled for the next Monday.

At the Monday morning meeting Meilton, speaking on Davis' behalf and with her consent, explained why Davis was upset and presented her complaints. Before the meeting was formally adjourned, Meilton indicated that he had a class waiting and rose to leave. Davis also left the meeting at that time.

Shortly after the meeting, Pollock circulated a memorandum which announced that an additional meeting would be held that afternoon. At that meeting Pollock indicated his intention to discuss Meilton's conduct. Meilton requested a postponement of the meeting until he could secure CEA representation and left the meeting. Davis stayed. In his deposition, Pollock indicated that he only wished to discuss the "matter" informally. On February 27, 1974, Pollock sent a letter to Meilton stating that Meilton's conduct had been unprofessional and unacceptable. 3 A copy of the letter was

Page 1158

placed in Meilton's personnel file. Plaintiffs seek to have the letter removed from the file.

II.

The district court held that the defendants had not infringed on plaintiffs' First Amendment rights. It relied heavily on Bishop v. Wood, 426 U.S. 341, 96 S.Ct. 2074, 48 L.Ed.2d 684 (1976), where the Supreme Court in dicta described the rights of public employees in the following manner:

The federal court is not the appropriate forum in which to review the multitude of personnel decisions that are made daily by public agencies. We must accept the harsh fact that numerous individual mistakes are inevitable in the day-to-day administration of our affairs. The United States Constitution cannot feasibly be construed to require federal judicial review for every such error. In the absence of any claim that the public employer was motivated by a desire to curtail or to penalize the exercise of an employee's constitutionally protected rights, we must presume that official action was regular and, if erroneous, can best be corrected in other ways. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is not a guarantee against incorrect or ill-advised personnel decisions.

Id. at 349-50, 96 S.Ct. at 2080 (Footnote omitted.).

The district court found that the letter of reprimand was not motivated by a desire to curtail or penalize plaintiffs' free expression of speech, stating:

I read this letter to be merely an expression of Pollock's opinion that the manner in which Meilton chose to exercise his freedom of speech was inappropriate and unprofessional under the circumstances, and beyond the scope of his activities under the collective bargaining agreement. Absent a finding of an intent to deprive, or an actual deprivation of, some constitutional right, the expression by a school administrator of his opinion as to the conduct of a teacher employed in that school is a matter within the internal personnel policies of the school, or at most a matter cognizable under state law.

The district court's finding that the principal did not intend to violate plaintiffs' constitutional right of free expression is predicated upon its application of the above-quoted dicta from Bishop. Bishop is inapposite to the issue presented for review. The Supreme Court in Bishop analyzed the constitutionality of the dismissal of a municipal employee. 4 Bishop argued that in dismissing him the City of Marion, North Carolina failed to comply with the Fourteenth Amendment's due process requirements of notice and opportunity for hearing as set forth in Perry v. Sinderman, 408 U.S. 593, 92 S.Ct. 2694, 33 L.Ed.2d 570 (1972), and Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 92 S.Ct. 2701, 33 L.Ed.2d 548 (1972). Unlike Bishop, plaintiffs in this case do not argue that the defendants' actions deprived Meilton of a property interest, although they do allege harm to reputation. Plaintiffs' main

Page 1159

claim is that the letter of reprimand has a chilling effect on their exercise of free speech and association. Agreeing with plaintiffs' characterization of the harm, we conclude Bishop is inapposite to the issue to be decided. Consequently, we do not defer to findings of the district court which are guided by the application of an improper test.

III.

At issue is whether Pollock's letter of reprimand was written in retaliation for Meilton's zealous...

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21 practice notes
  • Franklin v. Leland Stanford Junior University
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 20, 1985
    ...evaluate the record in resolving First Amendment issues. (E.g., Columbus Ed. Ass'n. v. Columbus City School Dist. (6th Cir.1980) 623 F.2d 1155, 1160; Sussli v. City of San Mateo (1981) 120 Cal.App.3d 1, 9, 173 Cal.Rptr. 781, cert. den. 454 U.S. 1085, 102 S.Ct. 643, 70 L.Ed.2d 621.) The Unit......
  • Baloga v. Pittston Area Sch. Dist., 18-1344
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • June 25, 2019
    ...retaliation based on association rather than on speech per se, see Columbus Educ. Ass’n v. Columbus City Sch. Dist. , 623 F.2d 1155, 1159 (6th Cir. 1980) ("[R]etaliat[ion] against the zealous representation by a union spokesperson of a member’s grievance impermissibly infringes upon the con......
  • Kim v. Coppin State College, 79-1386
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • October 26, 1981
    ...(5 Cir. 1980), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 101 S.Ct. 3063, 69 L.Ed.2d 428 (1981); Columbus Educ. Ass'n v. Columbus City School Dist., 623 F.2d 1155, 1159-60 (6 Cir. 1980). The courts are entrusted with this part of the Pickering balance not only because of the importance of legal questions......
  • Hamilton Cnty. Educ. Ass'n v. Hamilton Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 15–5749.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • April 20, 2016
    ...of the advantages of union membership and persuade them to join a specific union); Columbus Educ. Ass'n v. Columbus City Sch. Dist., 623 F.2d 1155, 1159 (6th Cir.1980) (holding that a reprimand letter sent in response to a teacher's union representation of a fellow employee's grievance infr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • Franklin v. Leland Stanford Junior University
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • September 20, 1985
    ...evaluate the record in resolving First Amendment issues. (E.g., Columbus Ed. Ass'n. v. Columbus City School Dist. (6th Cir.1980) 623 F.2d 1155, 1160; Sussli v. City of San Mateo (1981) 120 Cal.App.3d 1, 9, 173 Cal.Rptr. 781, cert. den. 454 U.S. 1085, 102 S.Ct. 643, 70 L.Ed.2d 621.) The Unit......
  • Baloga v. Pittston Area Sch. Dist., 18-1344
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • June 25, 2019
    ...retaliation based on association rather than on speech per se, see Columbus Educ. Ass’n v. Columbus City Sch. Dist. , 623 F.2d 1155, 1159 (6th Cir. 1980) ("[R]etaliat[ion] against the zealous representation by a union spokesperson of a member’s grievance impermissibly infringes upon the con......
  • Kim v. Coppin State College, 79-1386
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • October 26, 1981
    ...(5 Cir. 1980), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 101 S.Ct. 3063, 69 L.Ed.2d 428 (1981); Columbus Educ. Ass'n v. Columbus City School Dist., 623 F.2d 1155, 1159-60 (6 Cir. 1980). The courts are entrusted with this part of the Pickering balance not only because of the importance of legal questions......
  • Hamilton Cnty. Educ. Ass'n v. Hamilton Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 15–5749.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • April 20, 2016
    ...of the advantages of union membership and persuade them to join a specific union); Columbus Educ. Ass'n v. Columbus City Sch. Dist., 623 F.2d 1155, 1159 (6th Cir.1980) (holding that a reprimand letter sent in response to a teacher's union representation of a fellow employee's grievance infr......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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