The conventional wisdom among school district lawyers is that it’s best to win your case before it gets to a jury, especially if the plaintiff is a teacher. You just never know about juries. But we do know that people tend to identify with the little guy. All of us have been the employee. Not all of us have been the boss. So it’s noteworthy when a teacher vs. school district case gets to the jury and the jury sides with the district. That’s what happened in Waterman v. McKinney ISD.
The school board proposed to non-renew Mr. Waterman’s contract due to allegations that he had behaved inappropriately with co-workers. After hearing his appeal, the school board voted not to renew his contract. The Commissioner affirmed this decision.
Mr. Waterman then sued in federal court, alleging that the district had violated his constitutional rights. The court dismissed his claims that were based on the 9th and 14th Amendments, but the 1st Amendment claim was presented to a jury. The jury verdict was in favor of the district and the judge entered a judgment in accord with the jury.
The 5th Circuit affirmed the decision issuing an opinion that will not be published in the official reports. The appellate opinion deals more with procedural issues than substantive constitutional issues. Mr. Waterman objected to the introduction of some evidence, and the exclusion of other evidence. The court found no significant error in the way the trial judge had handled the case:
This was not a case decided on sparse evidence. Instead, the trial record is replete with evidence; much of it suggests that Waterman behaved inappropriately and made some coworkers feel uncomfortable and file complaints.
Mr. Waterman also complained that he was not allowed to amend his pleadings two days prior to trial. The court noted that this was “nearly nine months after the amendment deadline had passed. This delay is inexcusable….”
The case was decided on March 22, 2016. We found it at 2016 WL 1127429.
DAWG BONE: WADDYAKNOW….JURIES SOMETIMES LIKE SCHOOL DISTRICTS