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Jackson v. Dallas Sch. Dist.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 19, 2013

TED JACKSON, SR., Plaintiff
v.
DALLAS SCHOOL DISTRICT, CATHERINE WEGA, MAUREEN B. MATISKA, KAREN B. KYLE, LARRY G. SCHULER, DR. RICHARD G. COSLETT and CHARLES M. PREECE, Defendants

Page 305

For Ted Jackson, Sr., Plaintiff: Joseph C. Borland, LEAD ATTORNEY, Borland & Borland, LLP, Wilkes-Barre, PA; Kimberly D. Borland, LEAD ATTORNEY, Borland & Borland, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

For Dallas School District, Catherine Wega, Maureen B. Matiska, Karen B. Kyle, Larry G. Schuler, Dr. Richard G. Coslett, Charles M. Preece, Defendants: Andrew T. Bench, King Spty Herman Freund & Paul LLC, Bethlehem, PA; John E. Freund, III, King Spry Herman Freund & Faul, LLC, Bethlehem, PA.

OPINION

JAMES M. MUNLEY, United States District Judge.

Page 306

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition is the defendants' motion to dismiss portions of plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

Background

Plaintiff served as the head varsity football coach for the Defendant Dallas School District for twenty-eight years beginning in 1984. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 19). The individual defendants are all school board directors of the Dallas School District, and in late 2011, they declared the position of Head Football Coach open for the 2012-13 school year. (Id. ¶ ¶ 7-12). In January 2012, the district ratified that action and sought applications for the head football coach position. (Id. ¶ ¶ 27-28). Plaintiff applied for the position. (Id. ¶ 29). Plaintiff was not selected for the position. (Id. ¶ 32). Instead, the district, through the votes of the individual defendants, hired Robert Zaruta. (Id. ¶ 33). Zaruta and his family were active in politics, particularly the campaign to elect republican candidate Stephanie Salavantis to the position of Luzerne County District Attorney. (Id. ¶ 37). The individual defendants also supported Salvantis's campaign. (Id. ¶ 38). Plaintiff claims that the defendants opened the position of head football coach to create a vacancy that would allow them to hire their political affiliate, Robert Zaruta. (Id. ¶ 40). Meanwhile, plaintiff declined to give allegiance to public officials, political parties and political factions in power at the district. (Id. ¶ 20).

As the head varsity football coach, plaintiff had led the Dallas School District football team to fourteen Wyoming Valley Conference titles, four Eastern Conference titles, three District 2 titles, and the 1993 PIAA Class AA state title. (Id. ¶ ¶ 52-55). He was honored by a local newspaper, the Citizens Voice, as " Coach of the Decade." (Id. ¶ 59). He was inducted into the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. (Id. ¶ 60). Zaruta, on the other hand, had never served as a head varsity football coach. He possessed no more than one year of experience as an assistant coach with a varsity program and had no more than seven years of experience coaching junior high programs. (Id. ¶ ¶ 62-63).

Plaintiff's son, Ted Jackson Jr., (" Ted Jr." ) also worked at the school. (Id. ¶ 41). Ted Jr. was threatened with dismissal; he retained counsel and requested a " due process" hearing. (Id. ¶ 25). In the fall of 2011, Ted Jr. was, in fact, dismissed from his job at the school. (Id. ¶ 41). Plaintiff commented upon his son's dismissal. (Id.) He " expressed to his football team his disappointment in how his son had been treated." (Id. ¶ 65(c)).

The school district used an " evaluation policy and process" for its head coaches. (Id. ¶ 66). All head coaches undergo a mid-season and end-of-season evaluation by the high school principal and the athletic director. (Id. ¶ 68). This evaluation policy and process is intended primarily to identify potential areas of weakness so that head coaches may improve upon them. (Id. ¶ 69). The evaluation lists forty-six categories. The coach is graded as either definite weakness, improvement needed, satisfactory or good in each category. (Id. ¶ ¶ 72-73, Doc. 1, Ex. B). In the mid-season evaluation given in October 2010, plaintiff received a " good" rating in every category. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 73).

Page 307

In November 2010, plaintiff was given his end-of-season evaluation. He received " good" ratings in all but one category, where he received a " needs improvement." (Id. ¶ 76). In the next year, 2011, plaintiff was provided with his mid-season and end-of-season evaluations on the same day. (Id. ¶ 83). The mid-season evaluation ranked plaintiff as " needs improvement" in one category, " satisfactory" in two categories and " good" in all the remaining categories. (Id. ¶ 81). The end-of-season evaluation ranked plaintiff as " definite weakness" in nine categories, " needs improvement" in one category and " good" in all of the remaining categories. (Id. ¶ 84). Also in this evaluation, plaintiff's overall ranking, which could be satisfactory, probationary or unsatisfactory was listed as unsatisfactory. (Id.) An unsatisfactory ranking means that the coach is not to be recommended for continued coaching. (Id. ¶ 85). Plaintiff asserts that the criticisms lodged against him in these two evaluations were false and unwarranted. (Id. ¶ 86).

The school district's " Administrators & Coaches Athletic Handbook" indicates that the decision to dismiss a coach should be based upon the coach's willingness or ability to make corrections called for in an evaluation. (Id. ¶ 89). Because he was provided the mid-season evaluation on the same day as he received the end-of-season evaluation, plaintiff asserts that his dismissal was not based on his willingness or ability to make corrections based upon the mid-season evaluation. (Id.)

In the evaluations, one of the categories was " Assists athletes in the process of gaining scholarships and choosing colleges." (Id. ¶ 92). In all evaluations prior to the 2011 evaluations, plaintiff received a " good" ranking in this category. (Id. ¶ 93). In the 2011 evaluations, the evaluator noted " I have not seen evidence of this" with regard to this category. (Id. ¶ 92). Plaintiff provided a written rebuttal to the 2011 evaluations in which he identified thirty-nine student athletes he had assisted in the process of gaining scholarships and obtaining college admission through the football program. (Id. ¶ 94). He had in fact assisted as many as sixty students in this regard. (Id.) Plaintiff's evaluator did not rebut this evidence. (Id. ¶ 95).

Based upon these facts, plaintiff instituted the instant four-count action. His complaint alleges violations of the United States Constitution and he brings his causes of action under the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (hereinafter " section 1983" ). Count I asserts a cause of action for violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments rights to speech and association with regard to his termination. (Id. ¶ ¶ 100-101). Count II asserts that he was not selected for the position of head coach in violation of his speech and association rights. (Id. ¶ ¶ 102-103). Count I and Count II are asserted against the defendants in their official capacities. Count III and Count IV assert the same causes of action against the defendants in their individual capacities. (Id. ¶ ¶ 104-109).

Plaintiff seeks the following relief: reinstatement to his former employment; a permanent injunction against the defendants enjoining them from taking adverse employment actions based upon political affiliation, speech and association; a permanent injunction against defendants enjoining them from retaliating against plaintiff for filing this action as vindication of constitutional rights; back pay; compensatory damages; punitive damages; pre-judgment interest; reasonable attorneys' fees and costs and other relief as may be just and equitable. (Id. ¶ ¶ 101, 103, 106, 109).

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Defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. The parties have briefed their respective positions, bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

As plaintiff brings this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for constitutional violations, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (" The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising ...


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