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Vail v. Board of Education of Paris Union School District Number 95

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant’s committee recruited Plaintiff in Illinois to work as an athletic director and a football coach. The committee extended an employment offer to Plaintiff and guaranteed Plaintiff that his position was secured for two years. Nonetheless, after the first year, Plaintiff was terminated without cause. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on he grounds that Plaintiff had a property interest in his job and the board had deprived him of that interest without due process of law. The trial court held for Plaintiff, and Defendant appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    When an employee reasonably relies on an employer’s promise of continued employment, the employee has a property interest in continued employment.

    Facts.

    A search committee for the Board of Education of Paris Union School District No. 95 (“Defendant”)went to Joliet, Illinois to recruit Jesse Vail (“Plaintiff”) to be an athletic director and football coach. Plaintiff had been living with his family in Joliet for thirteen years and had been working at a correctional facility for ten years. Plaintiff was worried about joining the committee because he had concerns about job security, the length of the contract, and the time needed to fix deficits in the school district’s athletic program. Still, committee stated that it was not able to make a commitment for more than one year and that the full board would determine the length of his contract. On June 1980, the board came to a resolution, and decided to extend Plaintiff’ an employment offer, which would secure his position for two years. At that time, the board guaranteed Plaintiff that the board would renew his contract at the completion of his first year. Plaintiff completed a written contract for the position, for a salary that was lower than his pervious position. Nonetheless, in March 1981, the board decided that it did not want to renew Plaintiff’s employment contract, but the board did not provide Plaintiff with a reason for his termination. Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on he grounds that Plaintiff had a property interest in his job and the board had deprived him of that interest without due process of law. The district court held that, because Plaintiff had a constitutionally protected interest in continued employment, board’s action constituted a violation of Plaintiff’s due process when the board terminated Plaintiff without cause before the expiration of his employment period. Subsequently, the district court granted Plaintiff $19,850.99 in damages. On appeal, the board alleged Plaintiff only had a subjective expectation that his employment would continue, Illinois law was the governing law of Plaintiff’s rights, and the proper remedy is not damages. Instead, the court should issue a hearing assess whether termination was justified or a remand to require Plaintiff to prove his damages.

    Issue.

    Whether an employee has a property interest in continued employment when an employee reasonably relies on an employer’s promise of continued employment.

    Held.

    Yes,an employee has a property interest in continued employment when an employee reasonably relies on an employer’s promise of continued employment.

    Dissent.

    The majority’s logic creates an avenue for a contractor, even a paper-clip supplier, to obtain damages in federal court whenever a school board or local government body terminates a contract without conducting a hearing. Except if the court interprets the Fourteenth Amendment as a means to provide federal significance to all state action, irrespective of whether a fundamental right is involved, there is not a federal interest involved in this case. Plaintiff was not terminated for a federal reason, such as exercising his freedom of speech. Instead,the sole federal question in the case at hand involves whether the breach of the employment contract constitutes a constitutional tort under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Nonetheless, a contract right is not property right, and the main issue in Sindermann was tenure, rather than contractual rights. 

    Concurrence.

    The dissent improperly believes that this case as an issue of first impression when the issue of an employee’s property interest in continued employment is not, as decided in Hostrop v. Board of Junior College District No. 515, 471 F.2d 488 (7th Cir. 1972).  Further, Hostrop was properly decided, and in accordance with United States Supreme Court precedent. Additionally, Judge Posner’s interpretation of Sindermann, of being a case prioritizing tenure, is improper and not consistent with Supreme Court precedent, which establishes technical forms do not limit property interests protected under the due process clause. Despite the fact that there may not be a federal interest in the case at hand, stare decisis indicates that the court does not need to resolve any doubts about whether Plaintiff states a meritorious § 1983 claim.

    Discussion.

    When an employee reasonably relies on an employer’s promise of continued employment, the employee has a property interest in continued employment. In Perry v. Sindermann,the Court held that a property interest may be created under a statutory entitlement, through the operation of common law, or by contract principles.408 U.S. 593 (1972). Moreover, an employment term created by an employment contract constitutes a property interest that the state cannot terminate without with due process. In these circumstances, a contract’s binding nature, is pertinent, not the contracts length because the length of time only impacts the interest’s weight or value, not its nature. In this case, despite the fact that Plaintiffwas not tenured, the board’s actions resulted in a denial of Plaintiff’s legitimate expectation of employment for two years. Plaintiff’s reliance on the two-year employment contract is illustrated by the fact that Plaintiff left his residence in Illinois, where he lived for thirteen years, and his previous job, where he was employed for ten years, for a position with a reduced salary.Additionally, Plaintiff was illustrated his concern for job security before he took the job as well. In regards to damages, Defendant improperly asserts that there is a need for further proceedings because the district court already determined whether Plaintiff’s termination was for good cause. Therefore, the district court’s decision is affirmed.


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