Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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Littlejohn v. Rose

Citation. Littlejohn v. Rose, 768 F.2d 765, 1985 U.S. App. LEXIS 20542, 38 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 677, 38 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P35,525 (6th Cir. Ky. July 16, 1985)

Brief Fact Summary. Appellant, a non-tenured teacher, brought suit claiming that the failure of the school to recommend the renewal of her teaching contract was based upon her impending divorce in violation of her constitutional rights of privacy and liberty.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. It is a violation of appellant’s constitutional right to privacy and liberty to deny public employment on the basis of her impending divorce.

Facts. Appellant, Linda Littlejohn, was a non-tenured teacher. She had good evaluations for the two years she taught, and was described by her principle as an excellent student. Under Kentucky law, non-tenured teachers are automatically re-hired for the following school year unless they received written notice to the contrary by April 30. Appellant’s school system could not determine its hiring needs for the next school year by April 30, so to avoid automatic renewal it would notify the non-tenured teachers that their contracts would not be renewed. During the summer, the superintendent would recommend the appropriate number of non-tenured teachers for rehire.
In April 1982, the non-tenured teachers received notice of non-renewal, and subsequently her and her husband separated and divorced. During the summer of 1982 defendant Jack Rose, Superintendent of the schools, did not rehire appellant even though the principal strongly recommended her. Appellant contended that the failure of the superintendent to recommend the renewal of her teaching contract was based upon her impending divorce in violation of her constitutional rights of privacy and liberty. The suit sought reinstatement, back pay, and other damages and relief. The district court directed a verdict in favor of defendants; plaintiff appealed.

Issue. Could the school constitutionally deny public employment without sufficient justification?

Held. No. A person’s involvement in activity shielded by the constitutionally protected rights of privacy and liberty constitutes an impermissible reason for denying employment.
The fundamental right violated her was appellant’s right to privacy regarding her marital status. The district court incorrectly concluded that the right to privacy is only recognized when certain fundamental rights such as liberty or property rights are also affected.

The district court’s grant of a directed verdict was incorrect, because statements made by appellant’s supervisors adequate to support the theory that her divorce was the motivating factor in the superintendent’s refusal to recommend her for rehire. This testimony was sufficient to create an issue of fact for the jury.

Discussion. The school violated appellant’s constitutional rights to liberty and privacy if the evidence sufficiently proved that her employment was not renewed due to her impending divorce.