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Jackson v. Dallas School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 21, 2015

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.

MEMORANDUM

JAMES M. MUNLEY, District Judge.

Before the court for disposition is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. This case involves Plaintiff's Ted Jackson Sr.'s employment as head football coach at the Dallas Area High School. The school district terminated his employment after twenty-eight years and the issue is whether the district acted due to plaintiff's performance or whether they dismissed him for political reasons in violation of his constitutional rights. After discovery, defendants moved for summary judgment. The parties have briefed their respective positions and the matter is ripe for disposition.

Background

Plaintiff Ted Jackson, Sr., (hereinafter "plaintiff") served as an annually appointed Head Football Coach for Defendant Dallas School District. (Defs.' Concise Stmt. of Facts (hereinafter "SOF" ¶ 1). The principal of the school, Jeffrey Shaffer, "supervised head coaches, including plaintiff." (Id. ¶ 2). As part of this supervision, Shaffer performed two evaluations of plaintiff per year, a mid-season and an end-of-season evaluation. (Id. ¶ 6). Dallas School District's "Administrators & Coaches Handbook" governs the conduct of the head coaches. (Id. ¶ 3).

Plaintiff's son, Ted Jackson, Jr., (hereinafter "Jackson, Jr.") served as an assistant coach on plaintiff's staff. (Id. ¶ 8). Jackson, Jr. was penalized twice in October 2011 for behavior during football games. (Id. ¶¶ 9-10).[1] The school suspended Jackson, Jr. from October 18, 2011 through October 21, 2011. (Id. ¶ 11). Plaintiff then informed the football team that he was upset with the way the school handled the suspension of Jackson Jr., and that he might not coach an upcoming game. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14).[2]

Defendants highlight several other incidents involving plaintiff as relevant to the instant case:

1) During a football game with Tunkhannock High School in 2009, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, (hereinafter "PIAA"), the sanctioning body for athletic events held in the state, issued a penalty to plaintiff when members of his team urinated on the other school's tennis court; (Id. ¶ 17).

2) The school's athletic director Nancy Roberts served as plaintiff's immediate supervisor. (Id. ¶ 22). One of her duties was to provide the school's starting lineup to the public address announcer at games. She failed to do this on November 12, 2011 at a playoff game with Scranton Prep School. (Id. ¶ 21). The defendants assert that plaintiff reacted unprofessionally toward Roberts regarding this failure and that Shaffer, the school principal, issued him a written reprimand. (Id. ¶¶ 23-25).

In his end-of-season evaluation, the principal mentioned "the November 12, 2011 incident at the Scranton Prep game, Jackson's comments to the press and his students about being upset that his son was suspended, the unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and Jackson's decision to tell his students that the may not coach their game." (Id. ¶ 29). The evaluation rated plaintiff as "unsatisfactory" and recommended that he not remain the coach. (Id. ¶ 30).

Plaintiff had the right to appeal this unsatisfactory evaluation to the Superintendent of Schools, Frank Galicki. Plaintiff did so appeal. (Id. ¶ 31). Galicki held an appeal meeting on December 8, 2011 with plaintiff, Roberts and Schaffer. (Id. ¶ 34). After the meeting, Roberts, Shaffer and Galicki issued a written decision and recommended the School Board declare plaintiff's position "open" as of the 2012-2013 school year. (Id. ¶ 36). Subsequently, the school board voted to declare the position open and the members voting in favor of opening the position are the individual defendants, Dr. Richard Coslett, Karen Kyle, Maureen Matiska, Charles Preece, Larry Schuler and Catherine Wega. (Id. ¶¶ 37-39).

Eventually, the board interviewed potential candidates for the head coach position. Amongst those who they interviewed were plaintiff and Robert Zaruta. (Id. ¶ 43). The board eventually offered the position to Zaruta. (Id. ¶ 46). The defendants assert that Zaruta was hired because of his qualifications. Plaintiff asserts that he is more qualified for the position than Zaruta and that Zaruta was hired due to his political affiliations. Zaruta is the same political party as the majority of the board and displayed campaign signs on his lawn for several of them. Whereas plaintiff is a different political party from the board majority and did not campaign for any of them.

Plaintiff's 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"). (Doc. 18, Am. Compl.). 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. ¶¶ 122-23). Count II asserts that he was not selected for the position of head coach in violation of his speech and association rights. (Id. ¶¶ 124-25). 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. ¶¶ 126-31).

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 under ...


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