In a major recent ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois ruled that a school board did not violate a terminated teacher’s “liberty” right to pursue a public school teaching career, reasoning that the teacher obtained employment as a public school teacher at another school district just one school year after her termination.
In Wood v. Peoria School District 150, successfully defended by Stan Eisenhammer and Babak Bakhtiari, the school board dismissed a middle school math teacher in April 2013. Along with the resolution dismissing her, the school board attached a notice of dismissal stating the reasons for her nonrenewal. A local reporter then submitted an Illinois Freedom of Information Act request for the resolution. The next day, a local newspaper published a story containing the reasons for her dismissal. Notwithstanding the newspaper’s story, the teacher secured a position as teacher at another school district in August 2014, one school year after her dismissal.
The teacher claimed the school board violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when it attached the reasons for her dismissal (which she asserted were false) to the resolution that was later made public. In other words, she alleged the school district’s statements in the notice of dismissal were so stigmatizing that they infringed on her “liberty interest” to pursue a public school teaching career without “due process of law.”
The court stated that to support her claim, the school board’s statements must have “had the effect of blacklisting the employee from employment in comparable jobs,” making it “virtually impossible” to find a new position in that field. Here, the teacher’s “year-long hiatus from teaching did not amount to a tangible loss of employment to support her liberty interest claim.”
In addition, even though the teacher was paid less and taught different grades at her new position, the court held “[a] liberty interest in pursuing a career in the field of one’s choosing does not vest [an employee] with a right to have the same job, or the same salary, or the same employer.”
The federal judge’s ruling is a substantial victory for Illinois school districts. Contact any of our RIF team with your teacher dismissal inquiries.