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HOSTROP v. BOARD OF JUNIOR COLLEGE DISTRICT NO. 515

February 1, 1972

RICHARD W. HOSTROP, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOARD OF JUNIOR COLLEGE DISTRICT NO. 515 ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Austin, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This is a suit brought pursuant to the first, fourth, fifth, and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 et seq. Plaintiff is a former chief administrative officer of Prairie State College and defendants are members of the board of the college district, who terminated plaintiff's employment. They are sued individually and as a corporate body.

In his complaint plaintiff alleges that he was fired because of an administrative staff memorandum in which he made recommendations for changes in the Ethnic Studies Program. The memorandum was intended to be confidential, but it is alleged that it was made public by someone other than plaintiff. He contends that his first amendment rights were violated since he was fired solely because of his memorandum and that his fifth and fourteenth amendment rights were violated because he was not given a hearing. This court finds that as a matter of law plaintiff has raised no constitutional claims and therefore the complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim.

The most recent Supreme Court case concerning the first amendment rights of public school employees is Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 88 S.Ct. 1731, 20 L.Ed.2d 811 (1968). In that case plaintiff, a high school teacher, sued the board after he was fired for sending to a local newspaper a letter that was critical of the way in which the school board and the superintendent handled proposals to raise revenue. The Court held that unless he knowingly or recklessly made false statements, a teacher could not be dismissed from public employment as a result of his speaking on issues of public importance. The Court noted, however, that factors not present in that case could result in a different finding:

  The statements [made by plaintiff] are in no way
  directed towards any person with whom appellant would
  normally be in contact in the course of his daily
  work as a teacher. Thus no question of maintaining
  either discipline by immediate superiors or harmony
  among co-workers is presented here. Appellant's
  employment relationships with the Board and, to a
  somewhat lesser extent, with the superintendent are
  not the kind of close working relationships for which
  it can persuasively be claimed that personal loyalty
  and confidence are necessary to their proper functioning.

Id. at 569-570, 88 S.Ct. at 1735.

  It is possible to conceive of some positions in
  public employment in which the need for
  confidentiality is so great that even completely
  correct public statements might furnish a permissible
  ground for dismissal. Likewise, positions in public
  employment in which the relationship between superior
  and subordinate is of such a personal and intimate
  nature that certain forms of public criticism of the
  superior by the subordinate would seriously undermine
  the effectiveness of the working relationship between
  them can also be imagined.

Id. at 570 n. 3, 88 S.Ct. at 1735.

While none of the parties nor this court have found a case as the instant one involving a school administrator rather than a teacher, if the above-quoted exception drawn by the Supreme Court is to have any application, this court believes it must be in a case such as the one now before it.

According to the employment contract between plaintiff and defendant board, plaintiff agreed to "abide by all rules, regulations and directions issued by the Board in carrying out the duties of his position . . ." as chief administrative officer of the college. The nature of the position of a college president is such that the board must have the "confidence" in and the "personal loyalty" of the president. In order for the working relationship between them to be effective the right of a president to make public statements or to disagree with the board may have to be limited. Therefore, assuming that the memorandum which became public was the basis for plaintiff being fired,*fn1 this court finds that this is the type of case envisioned by the Court when it drew the exception in Pickering and that the plaintiff thus has no first amendment rights that were violated.

This court further finds that plaintiff has raised no due process rights that would entitle him to notice of charges and a hearing at which he could rebut them. The Supreme Court has held that interests must be considered to decide what due process rights an individual has:

  [C]onsideration of what procedures due process may
  require under any given set of circumstances must
  begin with a determination of the precise nature of
  the government function involved as well as of the
  private interest that has been affected by
  governmental action.

Cafeteria & Restaurant Workers v. McElroy, 367 U.S. 886, 895, 81 S.Ct. 1743, 1748, 6 L.Ed.2d 1230 (1961). In that case the Court held that a cook at a cafeteria operated by a private concessionaire in a military gun factory could be excluded from the factory for reasons of security without being given a hearing. The Court noted that it "has consistently recognized that an interest closely analogous to [petitioner's], ...


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