Appeal from a judgment entered after a bench trial in the Eastern District of New York, Jack B. Weinstein, District Judge, which dismissed the complaint of an acting public school principal in a civil rights action brought against a community school board, its members and the district superintendent to challenge the termination of his employment as having violated his rights under the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the action having sought declaratory relief, reinstatement and damages.
Lumbard, Mansfield and Timbers, Circuit Judges.
On this appeal from a judgment entered February 19, 1975 after a three day bench trial in the Eastern District of New York, Jack B. Weinstein, District Judge, which dismissed the complaint of Claude L. Huntley, Jr., an acting public school principal, in a civil rights action brought against a community school board, its members and the district superintendent to challenge the termination of the principal's employment, the question presented is the correctness of the district court's rejection of Huntley's claims that his termination violated his rights under the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
For the reasons below, we affirm the district court's rejection of Huntley's equal protection claim since there was not a scintilla of evidence that he was terminated for racial reasons; but we reverse the district court's rejection of his due process claim which was based on the failure to accord him a hearing prior to his termination and, as to this claim, we remand for a determination of what damages, if any, Huntley can prove that he sustained.
We shall summarize those facts necessary to an understanding of our rulings on the questions presented.*fn1
(A) Huntley's Appointment
Huntley, a black, became acting principal of Intermediate School 33 (I.S. 33) in Brooklyn on September 9, 1970. He served until he was terminated on May 25, 1973. The school is located in New York City School District 14. The position of acting principal carried neither tenure nor any contractual right to continued employment under New York law. I.S. 33 is approximately 99 per cent black and Hispanic. Approximately 90 per cent of the children who attend schools in District 14 are likewise black or Hispanic. The faculty at I.S. 33 is overwhelmingly white. Huntley was the first black principal in any of the schools within what is now District 14.
Both sides agree that Huntley was appointed pursuant to a so-called affirmative action program. He had significant credentials for the position. He had helped organize a public school for socially maladjusted boys in the same community. He had served in the same community as a teacher and as acting assistant principal for four and a half years before becoming acting principal of I.S. 33. By the time of the trial Huntley had completed the requirements for an M.A. degree from Columbia University Teachers College and had earned additional credits from that College and from Brooklyn College in Administration and Supervision. Although not certified as an intermediate school principal (such certification not being necessary for his I.S. 33 position), he was certified as an elementary or secondary school principal.
(B) Events Preceding Huntley's Termination
Despite Huntley's background and experience, shortly after he became acting principal, I.S. 33 became plagued with fires, hallway incidents, teacher complaints and other problems. During his three years as acting principal the school had 39 reported fires. The school had no reported fires the year before Huntley took over and only one the year after he was terminated. During his time as acting principal I.S. 33 also had an unusually high number of hallway incidents -- caused by students and by outsiders -- compared to the number of such incidents before and after Huntley's service. The number of parents who requested transfer of their children from I.S. 33 rose from 5 during Huntley's first year, to 28 during his second, to 132 during his final year. Thereafter the number of requested transfers dropped off significantly. During his service as acting principal a large number of teachers' grievance were filed against Huntley, most of which were upheld. On March 6, 1973, Huntley sent a letter to the parents of students apprising them of the "EMERGENCY SITUATION occuring in our school." The letter cited the large number of fires, false alarms, fights and disruptions, and asked for parent volunteers. The letter concluded with the warning, "You must act now because tomorrow may be too late."*fn2
According to the witnesses who testified on behalf of Huntley at trial -- including teachers, parents and a member of the school board -- Huntley had developed a close rapport with students and parents, and had won community-wide approval. This testimony was sharply disputed by defendants' witnesses. Nevertheless, there was enough support for Huntley in the community so that when he was terminated the school was boycotted and closed down for three days, and its graduation exercises were cancelled.
The evidence also disclosed that sharp differences developed between Huntley and the Superintendent of School District 14, William A. Rogers, about a year after Huntley became acting principal. By March 1973, they were exchanging heateed letters over the large number of fires, teacher grievances and disruptions. The letters also dealt with Huntley's charges that the teachers had formed a "cabal TO GET HUNTLEY" and that they wanted to maintain "an institutionalization of racism" at the school. Huntley and Rogers also disagreed about educational philosophy. For example, they clashed over a social studies program in which leaders of a community gang were invited to participate on an urban affairs panel together with members of the police department.
In his testimony at trial, Huntley attributed the large number of fires and disruptive incidents to insufficient staffing. Budget records, however, disclosed that I.S. 33 had been assigned twice as many school aid and school guard man-hours as any other intermediate or junior high school in the district. The school also had between six and eight assistant principals during Huntley's time as acting principal. This was as many as any other intermediate school in the district. Moreover, the number of fires and other incidents declined sharply under Huntley's successor, even though the number of school aid hours assigned to the school was cut nearly in half.
Huntley also testified that the number of teacher complaints was attributable to racism. This was undermined by other evidence that Huntley's successor, also a black, was getting along well with the teachers and that only one grievance had been filed against him. Moreover, in a letter to the Chancellor of the New York City Public School System in 1972, Huntley asked for a salary increase and charged that he was being discriminated against in terms of pay because of his race. Previously he had been informed in a letter from the district superintendent that under the Board of Education regulations a higher salary could not be paid to him. When asked about this at trial Huntley admitted that he had looked at the regulations before making the charges of racial discrimination. Then he went on to explain, "I ...