Cynthia Jackson was the principal of an elementary school in Port Arthur ISD until the superintendent reassigned her to assistant principal at the high school. Ms. Jackson challenged the reassignment in court, alleging that the superintendent and district had violated her rights to due process, and retaliated against her for the exercise of free speech.
The court tossed the case out. Much of the legal analysis was based on the straightforward language in the contract that gave the superintendent authority to “assign and reassign.” Moreover, there was no cut in pay.
As far as “due process” the court pointed out that Ms. Jackson had not been deprived of a “property” or “liberty” interest. “Due Process” is afforded only when process is due. Process is not due unless the government is taking away a person’s life, liberty or property. Moving from principal to A.P. does not involve a loss of any of that. So much for that issue.
The free speech analysis is a bit more involved. The court held that “a person does not engage in constitutionally protected speech when speaking with other individuals in the organization that employs her about matters concerning the duties of her employment.” Key Quote:
As the principal of an elementary school, providing [the superintendent] and her coworkers with her view about the strengths or weaknesses of the school’s programs and staff were matters that were encompassed within her duties as the school’s principal. Moreover, Jackson failed to allege that she ever discussed these matters outside the circle of the District and its employees.
We take that to mean that the court was unwilling to grant constitutional protection to every gossipy conversation in the teacher’s lounge, or even to more serious conversations among co-workers about how things are going in the school. So Ms. Jackson’s First Amendment claim also failed.
For the lawyers, this case is worth reading for the court’s discussion how a Plea to the Jurisdiction can be used. The court was OK with a Plea to the Jurisdiction in this case, noting that “Texas courts have recognized that a governmental unit may use a plea to the jurisdiction to challenge the validity of the plaintiff’s claims.”
The case is Jackson v. Port Arthur ISD, decided by the Court of Appeals for the 9th District (Beaumont) on April 20, 2017. We found it at 2017 WL 1425589.
DAWG BONE: THOSE CONTRACTS DO SAY “ASSIGN AND REASSIGN.” READ CAREFULLY.
File this one under: LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT
Tomorrow: It’s Toolbox Tuesday!! Let’s talk about that pre-graduation prank!