Powers v. Northside Independent School District, No. 18-50983 (5th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs filed suit against the school district and its superintendent, alleging free speech and retaliation claims in violation of their First Amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983; Article 1, Section 8 of the Texas Constitution; and the Texas Whistleblower Act. Plaintiffs, the former principal and assistant principal of an elementary school, served on a 504 committee which convened for the purpose of implementing regulations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Plaintiffs were terminated after an investigation determined that they intentionally authorized inappropriate student testing accommodations based on a misapplication of Section 504 eligibility requirements.
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the superintendent was entitled to qualified immunity because it was not clearly established at the time whether First Amendment liability can attach to a public official who did not make the final employment decision. The court also held that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment on plaintiff's First Amendment claims, because plaintiffs' calls to TEA regarding Section 504 construction and application at the elementary school were clearly activities undertaken in the course of performing their jobs and these actions were therefore not protected by the First Amendment.
Finally, the court held that plaintiffs were not entitled to recover lost wages because they failed to exercise reasonable diligence to mitigate their damages; the district court did not err in denying plaintiffs' motion for rescission or modification; the district court did not err in instructing the jury that the IHE's findings were preclusive; and the district court did not err in relying on the jury's verdict that plaintiffs did not report a violation of law in good faith.