The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mihm, District Judge.
On November 12, 1981, Plaintiff, Terry C. Knapp, a public high
school teacher, filed suit against Peoria School District No. 150
and three individually named Defendants, Harry Whitaker,
Superintendent of Schools; Russell McDavid, Principal of Woodruff
High School; and John Hatton, Assistant Principal, alleging an
abridgment of his First Amendment right to free speech and
further alleging that Defendants had retaliated against him for
exercising his First Amendment rights. An additional Defendant,
George Burdette, the Assistant Superintendent of Schools, was
named at a later date.
After a jury trial, which began January 25, 1983, Plaintiff was
awarded $514,333 in compensatory damages.*fn1 Immediately prior
to trial the Plaintiff filed a motion for partial summary
judgment, requesting the Court to rule that his speech was, as a
matter of law, protected by the First Amendment and that the
actions taken by the Defendants, in response to Plaintiff's
protected speech, constituted a violation of his First Amendment
rights. At trial, the Court ruled that Mr. Knapp's speech was
protected and that the Board policy, relied on by the Defendants
as justification for their actions against Plaintiff, was
unconstitutional on its face as well as the manner in which it
was applied to Mr. Knapp.
The jury was advised of the Court's ruling by jury
instruction*fn2 and were given four two-part special
interrogatories to record their verdict. The jury answered these
in favor of the Plaintiff in each instance, specifically finding
that Knapp's constitutionally protected conduct was a
"substantial or motivating factor" in the Defendants' decision to
transfer Plaintiff, deny him a personal leave day, give him
negative evaluations, and remove him from his coaching position.
Following trial, the Defendants' motions for judgment
notwithstanding the verdict, for a new trial, or amendment of the
judgment were denied by the Court.
The history of this case dates back to the fall of 1980, when
the teachers and School District 150 were engaged in collective
bargaining negotiations. During these negotiations, one of the
three most important topics (according to the teachers) was the
issue of the effectiveness of the operation of the grievance
procedure under the collective bargaining agreement.
The teachers made their dissatisfaction with the grievance
procedure known to the school board at a school board meeting on
October 20, 1980. At that meeting, the board members present
invited any teachers with examples of how the grievance procedure
was not working to bring them to their attention.
Pursuant to this invitation, the Plaintiff contacted board
member Betty Cleaver, informing her that he had information about
the grievance procedure. Plaintiff and Mrs. Cleaver scheduled a
meeting to discuss the grievance procedure at a later date and
Mrs. Cleaver indicated that it would be appropriate for Mr. Knapp
to contact other board members regarding the grievance procedure.
During the week following the October 20 board meeting, the
Plaintiff met with several board members to discuss the grievance
There is no dispute that Plaintiff arranged these meetings at
the convenience of the respective board members and was courteous
and well mannered throughout. The meetings took place at either
the board members' homes or offices.
At these meetings, the Plaintiff explained how the grievance
procedure had failed to work in the past and gave specific
examples of its failure. The examples cited by Plaintiff involved
problems with mileage and liability insurance, evaluations,
curriculum and classroom assignments. Plaintiff cited these
examples primarily in the context of the failure of the grievance
All of the board members actively participated in the
conversations with Mr. Knapp and indicated their desire for
future communications. At no time during these meetings was Mr.
Knapp informed that he was violating any board policy nor did any
board members seek to have Mr. Knapp disciplined for his conduct.
Furthermore, while some of the board members contacted
Superintendent Whitaker and informed him of Plaintiff's
conversations with them, Mr. Whitaker made no effort to inform
Mr. Knapp that he was in violation of board policy or had done
In March, 1981, Plaintiff filed a grievance based on (1) the
unequal mileage reimbursement from the school district with
regard to coaches and (2) the lack of liability insurance
provided to coaches who drove students to athletic events. The
grievance was denied, however, on the basis that it involved a
matter not personal to Plaintiff and was considered a "class
Following this denial, Plaintiff attempted to obtain
sponsorship at the next school board meeting to be held April 6,
1981 in order to express his views regarding the grievance
procedure. He contacted several board members for this purpose
and sent a copy of his previously denied grievance to all board
members (at board member Ed Glover's request and with the
permission of Defendant Russell McDavid). Eventually,
board member Marilyn Ketay agreed to sponsor Knapp at the April
On April 1, 1981, Superintendent Whitaker met with Plaintiff
and orally reprimanded him for his conduct of contacting board
members. At this meeting, Whitaker informed Plaintiff of board
regulation 2111.11, which requires that any communications to
board members be made through the office of the Superintendent.
Whitaker told Knapp at this meeting that he was "not to talk to
any board member about any educational issues". Mr. Knapp
indicated to the Superintendent that he felt this violated his
rights, to which Mr. Whitaker responded "Your rights end where my
nose begins". Mr. Whitaker concluded by indicating that any
further contacts by Knapp to board members would result in Mr.
Knapp being found insubordinate.
That same day Mr. Whitaker sent a written memorandum to the
Board of Education, severely criticizing Knapp for contacting
board members, and indicating that he would monitor Mr. Knapp's
conduct in the future. He also expressed his opinion of Mr.
Knapp's grievance. The memo to the Board reads as follows:
"I have been receiving information that Terry Knapp
is contacting the Board again on an issue concerning
payment for the transportation of students. In fact,
Dr. Glover has said that Terry has talked to him and
he is probably going to sponsor him Monday night. I
think Marilyn has also been contacted by Terry plus,
I believe, he sent each Board member a written
grievance. I don't know if he has contacted any of
you by phone, other than Dr. Glover and Marilyn
I asked for a meeting with Terry and I met with him
this morning. I pointed out that Board policy
2111.10, Superintendent of Schools, Item # 11 states
`communicate, or cause to be communicated, to all
employees all action of the Board relating to the
several employees, and all communications made to the
Board shall be through him.' I pointed out that this
wasn't the first time that he was outside of Board
policy and that from now on communication with the
Board should go through the superintendent. He was
very argumentative, as always, and said Board members
encouraged him to call them, write them, etc. and
that he was going to pay attention to the Board
members. I again pointed out to him that he is
outside of Board policy and that I expected him to
stay within Board policy.
If Terry continues to bypass the administration with
regard to communications, I am going to recommend his
dismissal. He is becoming a person who is quite
belligerent and creates havoc at Woodruff High
School. I am sorry that Russ ever employed him
because this has been his history at other school
districts. I will keep you posted.
His gripe is that Woodruff only pays him 12 cents per
mile when he transports youngsters for ball games.
Student Activity Funds Policy 5135.11 speaks to the
authority of the superintendent and principal with
regard to setting regulations and policies for the
school activity fund. Items 2, 3, 21, and 22, I
believe, give the superintendent and principal the
right to regulate the activity funds and determine
how much will be paid to those who work in the
Also, Board Policy 4116.2 states that `a grievance'
is a condition in the school system which an
individual teacher believes is wrong, unjust or
oppressive, but excluding issues such as changes in
salary and policy of the Board of Education which
relate to teachers as a whole. Since the teachers at
Woodruff are all treated alike with regard to how
much they are paid for transportation of ...