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Rendell-Baker v. Kohn

Citation. 457 U.S. 830, 102 S. Ct. 2764, 73 L. Ed. 2d 418, 1982 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.

The Petitioner, Rendell-Baker (Petitioner), brings suit because she was fired from her position as a school counselor in retaliation for her opinion of administrative policy. Five others were later fired after they voiced their intention to form a union.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Private conduct is not state action simply because the private entity serves a public function.


The school in this case provides education to students that have difficulty adhering to the traditional curriculum of the public school districts.
The Respondent, Kohn (Respondent), is the administrative director of the privately owned school who accepts students with drug, alcohol, or behavioral problems from local public high schools.
Students are referred to the school under Massachusetts Acts of 1972 and the school districts pay the tuition for the referred students. These public funds accounted for 90+% of the school’s operating budget.
In 1977, Petitioner was fired by Respondent for her role in a student-staff council tasked with making hiring decisions. In the spring of 1978, five other teachers were fired for writing a letter to the school’s board of directors supporting Respondent’s dismissal.
The students responded by picketing the home of the president of the board and were threatened with suspension. A local paper was made aware of the situation and the 5 teachers told the president they were going to form a union.


Is a private school’s dismissal of its staff considered state action when the majority of its students’ tuition is provided by the state?


No. The decision to discharge the Petitioners was not compelled or influenced by any state regulation. Although the general operations of the school were regulated by the state, specific personnel matters were left to the school. The most intrusive regulation by the state was that it had the power to approve those hired as vocational counselors.


Because the school receives almost all of its funds from the state and is heavily regulated, a close nexus exists between the school and the state. So, the school’s action must be considered state action. This analysis relies on the previous decisions that define a symbiotic relationship and the entanglement between the state and a private actor.


Just by providing funding to the school and general operating regulations the state is not running the school. The school is a private entity similar to a corporate contractor that relies on numerous governmental contracts for business. The actions of the school are not an extension of the state as it makes independent management decisions.

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