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PUCHALSKI v. SCHOOL DISTRICT OF SPRINGFIELD
March 30, 2001
DAVID PUCHALSKI AND LISA PUCHALSKI
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF SPRINGFIELD, SCHOOL BOARD OF SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, JAMES ASCIUTTO, DR. LEARY, MARTIN MERSKY, HUGH MCGOVERN AND DR. THOMAS STAPLETON.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Waldman, J.
This case involves the decision of the principal of Springfield High
School ("Springfield") not to renew the contract of David Puchalski as
Springfield's head football coach. Plaintiff David Puchalski asserts
parallel claims for age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in
Employment Act ("ADEA") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act
("PHRA"), a claim for deprivation of a property interest in his job under
42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state tort claims for intentional and negligent
misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, intentional interference with a
contractual relationship, invasion of privacy — false light and
defamation. Plaintiff Lisa Puchalski has asserted a claim for loss of
Presently before the court are defendants' motion for partial summary
judgment and two motions by plaintiffs for partial summary judgment.
When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must
determine whether "the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if
any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P.
56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Arnold
Pontiac-GMC, Inc. v. General Motors Corp., 786 F.2d 564, 568 (3d Cir.
1986). Only facts that may affect the outcome of a case are "material."
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. All reasonable inferences from the record are
drawn in favor of the non-movant. Id. at 256.
Although the movant has the initial burden of demonstrating the absence
issues of material fact, the non-movant must then establish
the existence of each element on which he bears the burden of proof.
J.F. Feeser, Inc. v. Serv-A-Portion, Inc., 909 F.2d 1524, 1531 (3d Cir.
1990) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The
non-moving party may not rest on his pleadings but must come forward with
competent evidence from which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in
his favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Williams v. Borough of West
Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989); Woods v. Bentsen,
889 F. Supp. 179, 184 (E.D.Pa. 1995).
From the evidence presented, as uncontroverted or otherwise taken
in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, the pertinent facts are
Mr. Puchalski was employed as the head football coach at Springfield on
a yearly basis for ten years. His direct supervisor was Hugh McGovern,
Springfield's Athletic Director. There were at least two other coaches on
Springfield's football team staff, Christopher Shelley whose age is
unknown and James Farrington who was 24 years old at the time. Mr.
Puchalski also worked full-time as an administrator at Carson Valley
School ("Carson Valley"), a private school which is a five minute commute
from Springfield. Most of the students at Carson Valley are
At a football game against Chestnut Hill Academy in the fall of 1997,
Roger Conduit, a local sports reporter who had been standing on the
sidelines, informed Mr. McGovern that Mr. Puchalski had shouted a racist
epithet at a football player during the game. Mr. McGovern reported the
incident to Dr. Thomas Stapleford, the principal of Springfield, and to
Martin Mersky, the assistant principal.
Mr. McGovern and Dr. Stapleford discussed the renewal of Mr.
Puchalski's contract at some point after this game. Dr. Stapleford
decided not to renew the contract. On January 5, 1998, after the
conclusion of the football season, Mr. McGovern and Dr. Stapleford met
with Mr. Puchalski and informed him that the School District of
Springfield (the "District") would not be renewing his football coaching
contract. Dr. Stapleford stated that they "want to take the program in a
new direction" and were "looking to hire a young coach who works in the
district." Dr. William Leary, the District Superintendent, did not permit
Mr. Puchalski to talk with the football team on school grounds after the
Mr. Puchalski's contract was a boilerplate document entitled
"Extracurricular Assignment Contract" with blanks for the employee's name
and personal information, information about the position, and for the
starting and ending dates for the activity. The printed document stated
that it was a one-year contract, although the activity was described as
beginning on August 11, 1997 and ending on November 27, 1997. The
contract also provided that Mr. Puchalski would receive compensation
payments beginning after the start of the activity and ending at least two
weeks after the activity concluded and when all phases of work were
satisfactorily completed. The contract further stated that the last pay
day must be scheduled after the activity had been completed. Mr.
Puchalski marked November 28, 1997 as his only payday. His pay for the
1997 season was $4,166.
About two months after the January 5, 1998 meeting, Dr. Leary spoke at
a public school board meeting regarding his plans and aspirations for the
athletic teams in the District. The statement was titled "Springfield
Township High School: The Athletic Program". The statement contained no
reference to Mr. Puchalski or any particular coach. Dr. Leary discussed
the need to exhibit good sportsmanship, to avoid "bad" language, to serve
as role models for the students, to ensure student athletes' health by
complying with the requirement of physical examinations, to honor the
PIAA rules and to work cooperatively with others in the school system.
After offering Mr. Puchalski's former position to one candidate who
declined the offer, Springfield accepted resumes and interviewed ten
candidates. James Farrington, a teacher and assistant football coach
under Mr. Puchalski, was ultimately hired. He was 25 years old at the
Mr. Puchalski sent out applications for two head football coaching
positions in 1998 and one application in 1999. He did not receive
any job offers. He is still employed by Carson Valley.
Mr. Puchalski suffered "depression, anger and obsession." His prospects
of obtaining alternate employment and reputation in the community were
damaged. Lisa Puchalski suffered loss of "services, companionship and
consortium" because Mr. Puchalski's "self-esteem" was injured.
During the summer of 1998, Mr. McGovern told William Travers, a mutual
acquaintance of McGovern and Puchalski, that he had made a racist
remark. He also stated to about twenty people that "there was more to it
[the decision not to renew Puchalski's contract] than what's in the
Several articles appeared in the local newspapers concerning the
decision not to renew Puchalski's contract and Dr. Leary's statement to
the School Board. All quoted Mr. Puchalski extensively. The articles also
contain quotations attributed variously to Dr. Stapleford, Dr. Leary and
In a January 15, 1998 article in the Springfield Sun, Mr. Puchalski is
quoted as stating that Dr. Stapleford spent very little time with him and
had never told him there were problems with his coaching. Dr. Stapleford
is quoted in response that Mr. Puchalski's comment was "patently untrue,"
that Springfield wanted teachers to be involved as coaches and noting
that Mr. Puchalski had to drive over from Carson Valley School during
regular school hours to handle an emergency situation. In discussing the
pending departure of two assistant coaches, Mr. McGovern also was quoted
as saying that the school was "very concerned with losing the two young
In another Springfield Sun article published a few weeks later, it was
reported that when asked whether his statement to the school board about
the athletic programs involved issues with Mr. Puchalski's tenure as head
coach, Dr. Leary responded "I'd rather not get into that. There have been
lapses occasionally in all sports." Dr. Leary also is quoted as saying
that candidates were being interviewed for the head coach position.
In another Record article published at about the same time, Dr.
Stapleford is reported as saying that Mr. Puchalski's job was opened up
as part of a movement towards hiring ...