Adams v. Board of Education Harvey School District 152, No. 19-3269 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
Adams, superintendent of the school district in 2013-2016, requested a forensic audit of the district’s expenditures and subsequently had disputes with board members that involved Adams filing a police complaint. The Board of Education revoked an offer to extend her three-year contract. Adams suspended the district’s business manager for financial irregularities. The Board blocked her email and told state education officials that Adams was no longer superintendent. Adams filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. A jury awarded $400,000 in damages.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed, finding that the police report was not a personal grievance, but a matter of public concern within the scope of the First Amendment. The potential for physical altercations between public officials implies that an important public institution was not working properly, particularly given that a proposed forensic audit “seems to have unsettled at least one" Board member. The police report and the controversy more generally could have affected the outcome of elections and the daily management of the school system. The record permitted a reasonable jury to find that an ordinary employee in Adams’s position would be deterred from speaking by the prospect of losing her job and was permitted to consider the possibility that Adams would have remained on the job longer had she kept silent. Damages for a First Amendment violation are not limited by the duration of contracts.