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Dougherty v. School District of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 18, 2015

FRANCIS X. DOUGHERTY
v.
THE SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PHILADELPHIA, et al.

MEMORANDUM

JUAN R. SáNCHEZ, District Judge.

Plaintiff Francis X. Dougherty brought suit against the School District of Philadelphia and three School District officials-Dr. Arlene Ackerman, Ms. Estelle Matthews, and Dr. Leroy Nunery-alleging violations of his First Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law. Dougherty alleged the School District officials suspended him or recommended his termination, and the School Reform Commission (SRC) terminated his employment, after he spoke to the press and law enforcement regarding misconduct related to the award of a contract for the installation of security cameras. The case proceeded to trial on March 9, 2015.

Before trial commenced, the parties stipulated that issues of liability and non-economic compensatory damages would be tried to the jury and issues of past and future lost earnings would be tried to the bench. Following a seven-day trial, the jury returned a verdict favorable to Dougherty on the First Amendment claim, finding Dougherty's protected activity was a substantial or motivating factor in the School District, Ackerman, and Matthews's suspension of him and/or recommendation of termination to the SRC. The jury awarded nominal damages.[1] Beginning on March 31, 2015, the Court held a two-day damages hearing to determine Dougherty's economic damages, during which Dougherty and Andrew Verzilli, an expert economist, testified in favor of damages. The Court also heard testimony from Michael Davis, the School District's General Counsel. After the hearing, the parties submitted letter briefs addressing whether the jury rendered a special or general verdict and the causation analysis for Plaintiff's damages. For reasons set forth in this Memorandum, the Court will enter judgment of $318, 520 in favor of Dougherty and against the School District, Ackerman, and Matthews.

FINDINGS OF FACTS

1. Prior to trial, the parties stipulated that issues of liability and non-economic compensatory damages would be tried to the jury and issues of economic damages (i.e., front and back pay) would be tried to the bench.
2. Before he was actually terminated by the SRC, Dougherty believed his termination was imminent because he had been placed on suspension. He therefore applied to other positions and indicated a willingness to accept a lower salary.
3. Dougherty was informed via a March 30, 2011, letter from Matthews that the School District would be recommending his termination.
4. The SRC terminated Dougherty via April 27, 2011, resolution.
5. The SRC approved all but three recommendations of termination made by the School District in 2010 or 2011.
6. In each of the three recommendations of termination rejected by the SRC in 2010 or 2011, the employee appealed the recommendation of termination.
7. In 2010 and 2011, the SRC received approximately thirty recommendations of termination from the School District each month.
8. The Court draws a negative inference from Defendants' non-production of records demonstrating the SRC rejected a School District recommendation of an employee's termination in 2010 or 2011 absent an employee appeal, in response to Plaintiff's March 17 and March 23, 2015, subpoenas requesting such information. Accordingly, the Court finds there is no evidence that the SRC rejected any recommendations of termination made by the School District when the employee failed to appeal in 2010 or 2011.
9. Dougherty suffered no economic losses when he was suspended by the School District on December 13, 2010, up to his termination on April 27, 2011, as he continued to be paid his ordinary salary by the School District.
10. When Dougherty was terminated, he was Acting Chief of Operations and Deputy Chief Business Officer for Operations, and his base salary for the fiscal year was $140, 000.
11. On July 1, 2011, all School District employees at Dougherty's pay grade were given an automatic six percent salary reduction and four unpaid furlough dates. However, these employees were not subject to a reduction in force.
12. With the six percent salary reduction and four unpaid furlough dates, Dougherty's adjusted base salary for the fiscal year in which he was terminated was $135, 548.
13. At the time Dougherty was terminated, he supervised the following operating departments/functional areas: facilities, capital programs, employee support, transportation, food services, and information technology (IT).
14. Each fiscal year, the School District issues a consolidated budget, or "budget book, " a forward-looking document detailing the anticipated budgets for each department or area in ...

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