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Sanguigni v. Pittsburgh Board of Public Education

argued: January 23, 1992.

PHYLLIS J. SANGUIGNI, APPELLANT
v.
PITTSBURGH BOARD OF PUBLIC EDUCATION, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION AND ENTITY; WILLIAM FISHER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS PRINCIPAL OF TAYLOR ALLDERDICE HIGH SCHOOL; RICHARD WALLACE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE PITTSBURGH PUBLIC SCHOOLS; LEE B. NICKLOS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS DIRECTOR OF PERSONNEL OF THE PITTSBURGH BOARD OF PUBLIC EDUCATION; ANN BIHARY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS VICE PRINCIPAL OF TAYLOR ALLDERDICE, APPELLEES



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA. (D.C. Civil No. 90-01629)

Before: Stapleton, Scirica, and Alito, Circuit Judges

Author: Alito

Opinion OF THE COURT

ALITO, Circuit Judge:

Phyllis J. Sanguigni, a public high school teacher, filed this action against the school board and various school officials, alleging that she had lost her coaching positions and had been penalized in other ways for publishing certain statements in a faculty newsletter. She asserted First Amendment and due process claims, as well as pendent state claims. The district court dismissed her complaint for failure to state a claim. We hold that the statements in question do not pertain to matters of "public concern" under Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 75 L. Ed. 2d 708, 103 S. Ct. 1684 (1983), and related cases and that Sanguigni did not adequately allege that she had a property interest in her coaching positions. We therefore affirm.

I.

These are the relevant facts that were alleged in the complaint.*fn1 Sanguigni is a tenured health and physical education teacher at Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh. While at Taylor Allderdice, Sanguigni has coached various athletic teams and has been president of the Faculty Association, an organization of Taylor Allderdice staff members. According to Sanguigni's complaint, the Association "had been primarily a social group" but has "broadened [its] purpose and "has become responsive to professional problems facing the professional and non-professional staff." App. at 8a.

The statements that form the basis of Sanguigni's complaint appear in an April 1989 edition of the Association's newsletter, the "Faculty Update." A copy of this publication is appended as an exhibit to Sanguigni's complaint. Because we must assess "the content, form, and context" of Sanguigni's statements, Connick, 461 U.S. at 147-148, we must describe the newsletter in some detail.

The newsletter is a one and one-half page typewritten document, consisting of nine paragraphs. Paragraph one expresses sympathy for several staff members whose relatives had died. Paragraph two recounts that Mrs. Barbara Shuty had received the "extra effort button" and requests recommendations for future "extra effort button" recipients. Paragraph three, which contains the statements at issue in this case, reads as follows:

We offered a few months back a bit on RETIREMENT WITH DIGNITY . . . it seems we need to add another moral support pitch for all concerned. Believe us if you or any staff member needs support to make your day at ALLDERDICE, feel free to contact an officer of the ASSOCIATION . . . It again has been called to our attention staff members are being put under undue stress. There must be a way to CORRECT this situation. We can not understand why some fellow teachers have had such bad luck this year and leave the building with such low esteem. We want you to know this issue is one of our priorities in making the difference this year at ALLDERDICE. If you can help us get to the bottom of the problem, PLEASE, PLEASE see us NOW. We want you to be a part of the good that exists here at ALLDERDICE. Maybe we can take the words of Thomas Jefferson and rephrase them for us now . . . "the care of human life and happiness and NOT THEIR DESTRUCTION the first and only legitimate object of good government" . . . good teaching, good education, good conferences???

App. at 10a.

Paragraph four lists the March bingo winners and discusses plans for the upcoming "April showers bingo." Paragraph five admonishes staff members to submit their menu selections for the June faculty luncheon and to join the PTA. Paragraph six congratulates Mr. Joe Foytick for winning employee-of-the-month honors. Paragraph seven advises any employees considering retirement to notify an Association officer so that the Association can "make [the employee's last] day special." Paragraph eight discusses nominations for Association officers, and paragraph nine thanks the Sunshine Committee. The newsletter is signed by Sanguigni and three others.

Sanguigni's complaint alleged that she had written paragraph three, which was quoted above, "to state her opposition to the pattern of harassment, oppression and retaliation that exists in the school, and encourage the organization of opposition to and collective action against such unlawful conduct." The complaint charged that in recent years faculty morale has been poor because Principal William Fisher, assisted by Vice Principal Ann Bihary, has made false retaliatory accusations of misconduct against any teacher who criticized Fisher. The complaint alleged that Fisher's conduct is condoned and encouraged by the Pittsburgh Board of Education, its superintendent, Richard Wallace, and its director of personnel, Lee Nicklos.

The complaint alleged that Fisher and Bihary "understood the statements in the newsletter as criticisms of them" and that they immediately attacked Sanguigni in retaliation. According to the complaint, Fisher, with Wallace's encouragement, gave Sanguigni unsatisfactory ratings for her performance as basketball and softball coach during the 1988-1989 school year and eventually removed her from her coaching positions. The complaint further charged that Fisher and Bihary continuously harassed and threatened Sanguigni, causing her much stress and anxiety. Moreover, Sanguigni alleged, Fisher gave her a "satisfactory/below average" rating for her teaching performance during the 1989-1990 school year and appeared ...


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