Coerced Resignation Did Not State A Claim Under Due Process Clause

October 22, 2019

Assistant principal sued school district under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that she was subjected to retaliation for speaking out about a student discipline issue in violation of her First Amendment rights, and that she was deprived of her due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment when she was coerced to resign. The district court granted summary judgment for the district and the Seventh Circuit affirmed.

Citing Garcetti v. Caballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006), the court held that the plaintiff’s speech was not protected as a matter of law because she spoke out as an employee and not a private citizen. The plaintiff’s job description was to coordinate and administer student discipline policies and, therefore, he alleged speech fell within the scope of her job.

The court also rejected the due process claim. Although the plaintiff had a protected interest in continued employment because she could not be fired absent good cause, she wasn’t fired; she resigned. Thus, she had no due process protections unless the resignation was involuntary, i.e., constructive discharge or coerced resignation. The court interpreted these exceptions narrowly. The former required evidence of a hostile work environment so unbearable that the employee resigns rather than enduring it. Plaintiff did not produce any evidence that she quit due to her work conditions. The latter required proof of a Hobson’s choice: quit or suffer some severe consequence, such as criminal charges or physical harm. The most that the plaintiff proved was that the school superintendent threatened to fire her because she did not have the proper licensing to work as an assistant principal. The court held that the mere possibility of a termination without more did not amount to an involuntary resignation.

Ulrey v. Reichhart, No.  19-1221 (7th Cir. 2019)

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