Rehearing and Rehearing In Banc Denied April 2, 1985.
COFFEY, Circuit Judge.
The defendants-appellants, Peoria School District No. 150, et al., appeal the jury's finding that employees of the School District infringed upon Terry Knapp's First Amendment right to speak on matters of public concern, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The jury awarded Knapp $514,333 in compensatory damages. On cross-appeal, Knapp appeals the district court's denial of his motion to include a claim for punitive damages. We affirm the jury's finding that the Peoria School District infringed upon Knapp's constitutional right to free speech and we affirm the denial of Knapp's punitive damage claim, but we remand this case to the district court with instructions to reduce the excessive compensatory damage award to an amount between $200,000 and $400,000. We further direct the district court, on remand, to provide the parties with findings of fact on the issue of Knapp's certification to teach high school level science courses in the State of Illinois.
The record reveals that in September 1977, Russell McDavid, the principal of Woodruff High School in Peoria, Illinois, hired the plaintiff, Terry Knapp, to teach biology in the science department at Woodruff and also serve as an assistant basketball coach and an assistant baseball coach.
In March of the 1979-80 academic year, Knapp resigned his position as assistant basketball coach due to disagreements with the head coach and increasing family obligations. At the same time, March 1980, Knapp submitted a reimbursement request to the Woodruff athletic director for the 400 to 500 miles he logged while traveling to area high schools to scout opposing teams and while transporting players to and from basketball games in his own automobile. Knapp requested a reimbursement of 20¢ per mile but was informed by the Woodruff athletic director that he would receive only 12¢ a mile. Knapp complained that this policy was unfair, especially in view of evidence that teachers at all schools in District 150, including Woodruff, and coaches at other Peoria public schools received a mileage allowance of 20¢ per mile. The Woodruff principal, Russell McDavid, explained that teachers who used their own vehicles to attend educational seminars and to transport students for educational purposes (i.e. field trips) were reimbursed directly by School District 150 at the uniform rate of 20¢ per mile. McDavid added that coaches were not reimbursed for their school-related travel expenses by the School District, instead each coach received a mileage allowance drawn from the athletic budget of his particular school. The Woodruff athletic budget consisted of $10,000 in public funds from School District 150, athletic booster club donations, fundraising proceeds, and gate receipts from the various Woodruff sporting events. According to McDavid, he independently decided upon the 12¢ per mile travel reimbursement figure when the comptroller of District 150 informed him, in the fall of 1979, of the possibility that Woodruff's $10,000 in public funds may not be forthcoming for the 1979-80 academic year. Knapp claims that he attempted to grieve this mileage allowance issue as an "unfair labor practice" but that his union representative was told by George Burdette, assistant superintendent of the Peoria School District, the claim was not grievable. In any event, Knapp did not file a formal grievance on the mileage allowance issue during the 1979-80 academic year.
Later in the spring of the 1979-80 school year, Knapp approached administrative assistant Hatton and inquired as to why he had not, to date, received an evaluation and why his schedule for the following academic year was not yet complete. Hatton responded that there were "inconsistencies in the figures we have gotten back from data processing" that accounted for the delay in compiling the schedule and also for the interrupted evaluation process. According to Hatton, when he informed Knapp of the reason, Knapp "started screaming ... `You're trying to screw me.' `I'm getting hosed.' `You're trying to transfer me.' `My evaluation is not done.' `You're not man enough to get this done.'" The following
At the beginning of the 1980-81 academic year, Knapp continued to express concern over the mileage allowance provided for Woodruff coaches, as well as the liability insurance coverage for coaches and volunteer parents in the School District who transported student-athletes in their private vehicles. According to Knapp, he had been informed of "a one million dollar umbrella policy carried by the district, that [coaches] were responsible for the first million dollar [sic] of coverage and then the School Board would pick up the remainder." Knapp further believed that the School District's insurance policy did not cover those parents who voluntarily transported student-athletes to school-related events.
On March 24, 1981, Knapp filed a formal grievance with the School District on the issue of liability insurance and the issue of inequitable mileage allowance for Woodruff coaches. According to Knapp:
Pursuant to Board Policy 4116.2 of Peoria School District No. 150, the first step of the grievance procedure is to discuss the problem "with the aggrieved person's principal with the objective of resolving the matter informally." If the grievant is not satisfied with the principal's decision, he may proceed to the second level and submit the grievance to the Committee on Professional Rights and Responsibilities. If the grievant remains unsatisfied with the Committee's ruling he may appeal the decision to a body composed of the superintendent and a three person grievance subcommittee. Finally, if the grievant is still not
Following receipt of principal McDavid's response, Knapp contacted members of the Peoria School Board seeking sponsorship to speak at the next School Board meeting, scheduled for April 6, 1981.
The next day, April 2, 1981, superintendent Whitaker placed a letter in Knapp's personnel file summarizing the content of the April 1 conversation and stating in pertinent part:
On Friday, April 3, 1981, Knapp approached principal McDavid and asked, in writing, for a "personal day" with pay, for the following Monday, because "I would like to use Monday April 6 to consult my lawyer about threats made to me by Mr. Harry Whitaker concerning my job." Pursuant to Administrative Procedure 4152.7 of the Peoria School District, "[t]he principal or immediate supervisor may grant an employee a maximum of two days per year for urgent and compelling personal business which cannot be conducted at any other time." McDavid explained that Knapp could see an attorney during non-school hours and thus the principal denied the request. Knapp responded that in light of his April 1 conversation with superintendent Whitaker, he feared that he would be fired for insubordination. Knapp added, in writing, that "[t]his has to be done for my personal protection before Monday's [April 6] board meeting. This is the only time my lawyer was free." McDavid phoned assistant superintendent Burdette and asked for his advice. Burdette knew that Knapp was not about to be fired, as such an action would have to be approved by the office of the assistant superintendent, and thus Burdette saw no compelling or "pressing reason that we should pay a teacher to see a lawyer under these conditions." McDavid formally denied Knapp's request and instructed him to return to class. During the following period Knapp became dizzy and nauseous, experiencing severe pains in his chest and arms that he believed to be warning signs of a heart attack. Knapp was transported, by a fellow Woodruff teacher, to the doctor's office where he was examined, given a prescription for medication, and instructed to rest for the weekend.
The following Monday, April 6, 1981, Knapp appeared at the School Board meeting, distributed an eleven page statement to each Board member, and informed the Board, in his prepared and oral remarks, that the grievance procedure was functioning ineffectively. As a specific example, Knapp related that principal McDavid denied his March 24 grievance — on the issues of the inequitable mileage allowance for Woodruff coaches and the School District's liability insurance policy — because the claims were non-grievable. In response to Knapp's statement, assistant superintendent Burdette, "outlined the exact steps of a Grievance Procedure. If the complaint is grievable, the final level is the Board of Education. If the administration feels the complaint is not grievable, nothing more happens." In addition, superintendent Whitaker explained to the School Board members that under the terms of the present collective bargaining agreement in District 150, "a complaint is not grievable if a teacher is not treated differently from other teachers in the building."
Following the School Board meeting, Knapp returned to Woodruff where he continued to teach biology courses and serve as an assistant baseball coach. On April 24, 1981, Knapp filed a second grievance with the School District, this time claiming that:
Principal McDavid reviewed the request and responded, in writing, that "this was not a grievable item." The next day, Saturday, April 25, 1981, Knapp coached a doubleheader baseball game and in the locker room afterward, he removed his elastic stocking only to observe an abnormal swelling in the upper calf region of his right leg. On the following Monday, April 27, 1981, Knapp visited a general practitioner, Dr. Lawless, who diagnosed the condition as phlebitis. Dr. Lawless prescribed
On Wednesday, April 29, 1981, administrative assistant Hatton completed a year-end evaluation of Knapp, stating that:
In addition, Hatton recommended that Knapp be placed on remediation status, meaning that Knapp's employment would continue as long as he corrected the problems alluded to in the evaluation. Two days later, on Friday, May 1, 1981, Knapp returned to school to discuss a lesson plan with his substitute teacher and to retrieve some papers from his classroom. While checking his intra-office mail, Knapp learned that Hatton had completed the evaluation and wanted to discuss the content with him. Hatton presented the evaluation to Knapp who read it, became infuriated, and complained that "my leg started throbbing, my hands were sweating, my face was sweating, my intestines were cramping." Knapp claims that when he proceeded to the door of Hatton's office, the administrative assistant told him, "you cannot leave this office without signing this evaluation right now." According to Hatton, he informed Knapp that "you're not supposed to leave without signing this evaluation. It doesn't mean that you agree with it."
On Monday, May 4, 1981, Knapp did not return to Woodruff but had his union representative file a third grievance with the Peoria School District, claiming that:
On May 8, 1981, Knapp again visited Dr. Lawless complaining of recurring nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and headaches, along with pain in his right leg. Dr. Lawless diagnosed Knapp as suffering from acute anxiety and arranged for Knapp to meet with a psychologist, to evaluate the anxiety condition, as well as a vascular surgeon, to determine the severity of Knapp's phlebitis condition. Finally, Dr. Lawless recommended to Knapp's superiors that he be placed on a temporary leave of absence.
Knapp did not return to Woodruff for the remainder of the 1980-81 academic year. In June 1981, during the summer vacation period, principal McDavid phoned Knapp to discuss the phlebitis condition and to determine Knapp's ability to serve as an assistant baseball coach at Woodruff for the upcoming 1981-82 school year. McDavid informed Knapp that "I really need someone that is healthy and reliable." Knapp responded that:
According to Knapp, he further informed McDavid that "[t]he doctor said even if I require surgery or stripping a vein, that it shouldn't be any problem and that I would be able to resume my coaching duties in the spring." At the close of this conversation, McDavid relieved Knapp of his assistant baseball coaching position, noting that:
In August 1981, Knapp received a medical release to return to his teaching duties and upon arrival at Woodruff, he learned that his schedule no longer included study-hall supervision, a position for which teachers in District 150 receive extra compensation. On November 12, 1981, Knapp filed the instant lawsuit, alleging, inter alia, that the defendants, "acting in concert, have commenced a plan and course of action to penalize Plaintiff for his exercise of the First Amendment right to make known his views on matters of public importance in a lawful and legitimate manner," in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. During the course of the 1981-82 academic year, it became evident that the Peoria School District would have to dismiss between 140 and 160 teachers the following year "due to declining enrollment and economic conditions." As a result, the School District terminated many non-tenured teachers and transferred numerous tenured teachers, based chiefly upon their years of seniority within a department, to other schools within the District. Knapp had accumulated the least amount of seniority among the five teachers in the science department at Woodruff High School. Thus, on April 13, 1982, Byron McCormick, personnel director for the Peoria schools, informed Knapp, in writing, that "unless unforseen changes occur, it will be necessary to transfer you to a different building assignment, effective with the 1982-83 school year." Following receipt of this letter, Knapp sought interviews at Peoria Central High School where teachers with coaching experience were needed in the science, health, and physical education departments. According to assistant superintendent Burdette, the principal
On April 29, 1982, administrative assistant Hatton completed another year-end evaluation of Knapp, stating, in relevant part, that:
On May 4, 1982, Knapp filed a fourth grievance with the district, this time complaining that Hatton's evaluation failed to "follow the board's own procedure in evaluation of remediated teachers." Assistant superintendent Burdette responded in a letter of May 6, 1982, that:
On May 19, 1982, Knapp filed another grievance on the very same topic — Hatton's April 29 evaluation — which was again denied. Burdette informed Knapp, in writing, that the grievance "certainly appears to be an attempt to harass the administration at a time when their attention is needed to the many things necessary to have a successful conclusion of the school year for our students."
On July 16, 1982, the personnel director of the Peoria schools sent Knapp another letter, this time informing him that he was officially transferred to Harrison Grade School where he would teach science and math at the seventh and eighth grade levels. On July 27, 1982, Knapp submitted a fifth grievance, protesting "my involuntary transfer from Woodruff High School to Harrison Grade School." Knapp alleged that "had I not been improperly fired from coaching Sophmore baseball I would still be assigned next year to Woodruff." In support of this claim Knapp cited three examples of teachers at Woodruff, who held coaching positions, that were not transferred despite the fact they had less seniority than other teachers within their respective departments. Knapp further claimed that "I was never granted an interview for any of the three positions at Peoria High ... nor was I granted any interviews that would better match my background and certifications." Knapp presented the grievance to principal McDavid at level one, assistant superintendent Burdette and the Professional Rights and Responsibilities Committee at level two, and superintendent Whitaker at level three. Knapp's claim was considered grievable but was denied at all three levels on the basis that the School District acted properly.
On November 22, 1982, one year after the filing of this civil rights lawsuit and some three months after entry of the final pretrial order, Knapp requested leave to amend his complaint to include a claim for punitive damages. On December 17, 1982, the district court denied the request because "substantial prejudice will result to the Defendants if the Plaintiff is permitted to add a punitive damage claim." The case proceeded to trial and at the close of the evidence on February 1, 1983, the district judge ruled, from the bench, that "the speech involved in this case, the contact with the Board members orally, I mean
The court further instructed the jury that based upon the evidence presented, they were to answer the following specific interrogatories:
The jury found that Knapp's constitutionally protected speech was a substantial or motivating factor in each of the defendants' four decisions and that the defendants would not have taken such action if Knapp had not engaged in such speech. Based upon these findings, the jury awarded Knapp $514,333 in compensatory damages. On March 30, 1983, the district court granted Knapp the following equitable relief:
The court stayed the equitable relief order, pending appeal, directing that the expunged material be delivered to the defendants' counsel and that the defendants notify the district court of any vacancies occurring at Woodruff High School.
On April 22, 1983, the defendants filed a notice of appeal in this court and in an unpublished order of June 30, 1983, we remanded the case for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 103 S.Ct. 1684, 75 L.Ed.2d 708 (1983) ("Connick"). On remand, the district court ruled, inter alia, that "while Connick may be factually distinguishable from our case, even the application of the principles set forth in Connick do not support a change in any earlier rulings by this court." 577 F.Supp. 1265, 1270. According to the court, "Mr. Knapp's speech, with its focus on the operation of the grievance procedure, was a matter of public concern." at 1271. The defendants appeal the district court's ruling that Knapp engaged in constitutionally protected speech, the sufficiency of the evidence introduced at trial, the alleged trial errors, and the legal and equitable relief awarded. Knapp cross-appeals the district court's refusal to permit a punitive damage claim.
A. PROTECTED SPEECH
The defendants initially contend that the district court erred in ruling, as a matter of law, that Knapp's speech to members of the Peoria School Board was a matter of public concern protected under the First Amendment. According to the defendants, Knapp's speech focused only upon the job-related, personal issues of classroom assignment, evaluation content, mileage allowance for coaches at Woodruff, liability insurance for coaches and volunteer parents of School District 150, and the grievance procedure as it related to Knapp's particular disputes. The defendants rely upon the Supreme Court's language in Connick that:
461 U.S. at 147, 103 S.Ct. at 1690. The defendants claim that Knapp's speech was not a matter of public concern and thus was not protected by the First Amendment.
We begin our analysis with the Supreme Court's decision in Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563, 88 S.Ct. 1731, 20 L.Ed.2d 811 (1968) ("Pickering"). In that case, a public high school teacher was dismissed for submitting, to the editor of a local newspaper, a factually inaccurate letter that criticized the local School Board for its past allocation of bond revenues and the local school superintendent for attempting to prevent teachers from opposing a newly proposed bond issuance. The Court ruled that the teacher's speech was a matter of "legitimate public concern on which ... free and open debate is vital to informed decision-making by the electorate." Id. at 571-72, 88 S.Ct. at 1736-37. The court further reasoned that:
Id. at 568, 88 S.Ct. at 1734. See also Givhan v. Western Line Consol. School Dist., 439 U.S. 410, 414, 99 S.Ct. 693, 696, 58 L.Ed.2d 619 (1979); Mt. Healthy City Board of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 284, 97 S.Ct. 568, 574, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977). In balancing the competing interests, the Court considered that the teacher's speech was not directed toward anyone with whom
More recently, the Supreme Court in Connick refined the method for analyzing a case involving the First Amendment rights of a public employee. In Connick, an assistant district attorney was dismissed for insubordination after she circulated a questionnaire concerning internal office affairs. The questionnaire attempted to solicit staff members' views on the office transfer policy, office morale, the need for a grievance committee, the level of confidence in supervisors, and whether employees felt pressured to work in political campaigns. In considering the assistant district attorney's claim that distribution of the questionnaire was protected speech under the First Amendment, the Supreme Court explained that the constitutional analysis involves a two-step process. See Yoggerst v. Hedges, 739 F.2d 293, 295 (7th Cir.1984). The initial inquiry is whether the speech is a matter of public concern, for "[w]hen employee expression cannot be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community, government officials should enjoy wide latitude in managing their offices, without intrusive oversight by the judiciary in the name of the First Amendment." Connick, 461 U.S. at 146, 103 S.Ct. at 1689. If the speech is deemed a matter of public concern, the court must then engage in the Pickering balancing test, weighing the interest of the public employee, as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern with the interest of the State, as an employer, in promoting effective and efficient public service. The Supreme Court added that "[t]he inquiry into the protective status of speech is one of law, not fact." Id. at 148 n. 7, 103 S.Ct. at 1690 n. 7.
Within this analytical framework, the Court established that "[w]hether an employee's speech addresses a matter of public concern must be determined by the content, form, and context of a given statement, as revealed by the whole record." Id. at 147-48, 103 S.Ct. at 1690-91. In Connick, the Court considered that none of the questions, except the one about pressure to work in political campaigns, sought to evaluate the District Attorney's performance as an elected official; inform the public that the District Attorney's office was failing to discharge its governmental duties; or expose potential wrongdoing or breach of the public trust. Accordingly, the Court held that the questions were nothing more than one employee's dissatisfaction with office procedures that did "not fall under the rubric of matters of `public concern.'" Id. at 148, 103 S.Ct. at 1690. The Court ruled, however, that "the issue of whether assistant district attorneys are pressured to work in political campaigns is a matter of interest to the community upon which it is essential that public employees be able to speak freely without fear of retaliatory dismissal." Id. at 149, 103 S.Ct. at 1691. Because the question of political campaign pressure involved a matter of public concern, the Court proceeded to the second analytical step — the Pickering balancing test — weighing the plaintiff's interest in discussing matters of public concern with the interest of the District Attorney's office in providing efficient services for the public. The Court considered numerous factors, including (1) whether the speech impeded the employee's ability to perform her responsibilities; (2) the importance of close working relationships with superiors and co-workers; (3) the time, place, and manner in which the speech was delivered; and (4) the context in which the underlying dispute arose. Id. at 150-54, 103 S.Ct. at 1691-94. See also Zook v. Brown, 748 F.2d 1161,
Connick, 461 U.S. at 154, 103 S.Ct. at 1693.
In the present case, the issue is whether Knapp's oral and written communications with members of the Peoria School Board are matters of public concern, protected under the First Amendment. We realize, of course, that "[b]ecause of the enormous variety of fact situations in which critical statements by teachers and other public employees may be thought by their superiors ... to furnish grounds for dismissal, ... [there exists no] general standard against which all such statements may be judged." Pickering, 391 U.S. at 569, 88 S.Ct. at 1735. See also Egger v. Phillips, 710 F.2d 292, 315 (7th Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 918, 104 S.Ct. 284, 78 L.Ed.2d 262 (1983). In resolving Knapp's claim that the Peoria School District infringed upon his constitutional right to free speech, we are guided by the Supreme Court's analysis in Pickering and Connick. The record indicates that Knapp contacted School Board members concerning his classroom assignment; the content of administrative assistant Hatton's evaluations; the inequitable mileage allowance for Woodruff coaches; the liability insurance provided by Peoria School District No. 150 for coaches and volunteer parents who transport student-athletes to school-related activities; and the general ineffectiveness of the grievance procedure within District 150. The issues of Knapp's classroom assignment and the content of his evaluations are clearly personal matters relating solely to Knapp's employment at Woodruff. Knapp's speech on these issues was not an attempt to inform the public that the administrators in District 150 were failing to discharge their governmental responsibilities. Moreover, Knapp's speech on these subjects was not aimed at uncovering a wrongdoing or breach of the public trust among Peoria School District administrators. Instead, Knapp simply disagreed with certain internal decisions made by his immediate superiors at Woodruff High School. While principal McDavid, as a matter of good judgment, should have been receptive to any constructive criticism offered by Knapp, "the First Amendment does not require a public office to be run as a roundtable for employee complaints over internal office affairs." Connick, 461 U.S. at 149, 103 S.Ct. at 1691. Accordingly, based upon the content, form, and context of Knapp's complaints about classroom assignment and evaluation content, we hold that such speech is a matter of personal concern, not a matter of public concern.
The issue of inequitable mileage allowance involves not only Knapp but all of the coaches at Woodruff who travel to area high schools to scout opposing teams and who transport student-athletes to school-related events in their own vehicles. According to the establishe dpolicy in District 150, each high school maintains a separate athletic budget to pay for such items as uniforms, equipment, and coaches' travel expenses. These athletic budgets generally consist of public funds distributed by the School District, as well as monies collected from athletic booster clubs, fundraisers, and gate receipts. At Woodruff, a substantial portion of the athletic budget ($10,000) consisted of public funds received from the Peoria School District. The comptroller of District 150 informed principal McDavid of the possibility that these funds may be cut for the 1979-80 academic year, and thus McDavid independently decided upon a 12¢ per mile reimbursement figure for Woodruff coaches. Knapp protested, on behalf of all coaches at Woodruff, that McDavid's decision was unfair as coaches at other Peoria public high schools received
The liability insurance coverage provided by School District 150 for all coaches and volunteer parents who transport student-athletes to school-related events in their own vehicles is, likewise, a matter of interest and concern to members of the Peoria community. In today's litigious society, a volunteer who gratuitously donates time and expense in transporting students is entitled to know the risks involved and the limits of the liability insurance coverage in the event of an unfortunate accident. Similarly, the citizens of Peoria, as taxpayers, have a financial interest in the terms of the School District's insurance policy and the amount of coverage provided when the School District is held liable for an accident involving a school employee or authorized volunteer personnel. The failure to provide the citizens of Peoria with such insurance information borders upon a breach of the School District's duty to inform the community of the public school system's policies concerning potential liabilities. At trial, the defendants established that the Peoria School District is required by Illinois state law to indemnify and protect all School District employees and authorized volunteer personnel against "death and bodily injury and property damage claims and suits, including defense thereof, when damages are sought for negligent or wrongful acts alleged to have been committed in the scope of employment or under the direction of the board." See Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 122 §§ 10-20.20, 10-22.34 (1983). The record reveals, however, that the defendants never informed Knapp nor any members of the Peoria community of this state-mandated indemnification policy before Knapp presented the matter to the School Board. In fact, the varsity tennis coach at Woodruff submitted a formal letter of resignation due, in part, to his belief that the School District's liability insurance policy was inadequate. In view of the content, form, and context of Knapp's speech on liability insurance for coaches and volunteer parents who transport student-athletes to school-related events, we hold that such speech is a matter of public concern.
The functioning of a grievance procedure is generally an internal issue, important only to the teachers and School District employees who must use the procedure to air their complaints about employment conditions and practices. In the present case, however, the grievance procedure was the subject of ongoing collective bargaining negotiations between the teachers' union and the administrators of Peoria School District No. 150. Board member Ketay requested that teachers comment upon deficiencies in the grievance process and administrators of the School District openly sought input on the grievance procedure in order to effectively
In light of our conclusion that Knapp's speech involved matters of public concern, we proceed to the second analytical step — the Pickering balancing test — and weigh Knapp's interest, as a citizen, in discussing matters of public concern with the Peoria School Board against the School District's interest, as an employer, in promoting efficient public services by requiring that a teacher's communication to the School Board be channeled through the superintendent. The initial, and often determinative, question is whether the speech interferes with the employee's work or with the efficient and successful operation of the office. Knapp's speech clearly did not interfere with his teaching responsibilities, as Knapp continued to teach in the science department at Woodruff High School for more than a year after he spoke with the School Board members. Knapp's temporary leave of absence at the end of the 1980-81 academic year resulted from his medically documented condition of nervous anxiety and phlebitis. The record is void of any evidence suggesting that this temporary medical leave was caused by Knapp's communication with School Board members on the issues of inequitable mileage allowance, liability insurance, or the grievance procedure within District 150. Moreover, we are not presented with a case of close working relationships between teachers and administrators in District 150, where Knapp's speech caused disruption or threatened to destroy employee morale within Woodruff High School much less the Peoria School District. Knapp's speech, on behalf of other teachers, coaches, and volunteer parents, was directed at certain policies of the School District, not at any particular person with whom he had daily contact. Knapp's speech did not affect discipline within Woodruff High School nor did it endanger the daily classroom routine. Indeed, the defendants admitted at trial that "we don't have a disruption issue here."
The record further reveals that the time, place, and manner in which Knapp delivered his speech to the School Board did not interfere with his teaching responsibilities. Knapp discussed the inequitable mileage allowance, the liability insurance, and the grievance procedure issues with Board members on his own time and at a regularly scheduled School Board meeting, with the sponsorship and approval of Board members. In addition, Knapp adhered to the internal rules of Peoria School District No. 150, vocalizing his complaints through the formal grievance process. Knapp's disagreement with the administrative policies of the Peoria School District arose, in part, from his experience with the grievance procedure at Woodruff High School. We are mindful that "[w]hen employee speech concerning office policy arises from an employment dispute concerning the very application of that policy to the speaker, additional weight must be given to the supervisor's view that the employee has threatened the authority of the employer to run the office." Connick, 461 U.S. at 153, 103 S.Ct. at 1693. In the present case, however,
We recognize that the Peoria School District has a legitimate interest in maintaining order by channeling a teacher's communication to the School Board through the superintendent. This practice clearly prevents the Board from being overburdened with personal, job-related issues more efficiently handled at the administrative level. Nevertheless, Knapp's speech to the School Board members on the issues of inequitable mileage allowance for Woodruff coaches, liability insurance for coaches and volunteer parents, and the ineffectiveness of the grievance procedure did not hinder the educational services provided within Woodruff High School nor did it threaten to disrupt the day-to-day administration of District 150. Thus, in the context of this case, the interest of the Peoria School District in promoting efficient educational services does not outweigh Knapp's right to discuss matters of public concern with the Peoria School Board. Accordingly, we hold that under the First Amendment analysis set forth in Pickering and Connick, Knapp's speech to the School Board concerning inequitable mileage allowance, liability insurance, and the grievance procedure are matters of public concern protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
B. SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE
In Mt. Healthy City Board of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 97 S.Ct. 568, 50 L.Ed.2d 471 (1977) ("Mt. Healthy"), the Supreme Court concluded that a public employee who alleges a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech must "show that his conduct was constitutionally protected, and that his conduct was a `substantial factor' — or, to put it in other words, that it was a `motivating factor'" for the defendant's actions. 429 U.S. at 287, 97 S.Ct. at 576 (emphasis added) (footnote omitted). We have already ruled that Knapp's speech to the School Board members concerning inequitable mileage allowance, liability insurance, and the grievance procedure was, as a matter of law, constitutionally protected. Thus, Knapp satisfied the initial burden of proof under Mt. Healthy. We now address the defendants' argument that Knapp failed to introduce sufficient evidence to satisfy the "substantial or motivating factor" prong of the Mt. Healthy test.
The jury expressly found that Knapp's constitutionally protected speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the defendants' decisions to deny Knapp a personal leave day with pay, to give Knapp negative evaluations, to remove Knapp as the assistant baseball coach, and to transfer Knapp to Harrison Grade School. It is well-settled in this circuit that "a jury verdict will not be set aside if a reasonable basis exists in the record to support that verdict." Spesco v. General Electric Co., 719 F.2d 233, 237 (7th Cir.1983) (citing Lenard v. Argento, 699 F.2d 874, 882 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 815, 104 S.Ct. 69, 78 L.Ed.2d 84 (1983)). See also McGill v. Bd. of Ed. of Pekin Elementary Sch., 602 F.2d at 780. The credibility of the witnesses and the weight of the evidence are matters within the purview of the jury, especially in a case such as this which turns, in large measure, upon the defendants' motive in making certain decisions. Lenard v. Argento, 699 F.2d at 882. Moreover, we are to review the evidence in the light most favorable to the prevailing party; in this case Knapp.
The record reveals that on April 3, 1981, defendants McDavid and Burdette denied Knapp's "personal day" request to see an attorney, with full knowledge that the request related directly to the oral reprimand Knapp received from superintendent Whitaker, just two days previous, for personally
In Mt. Healthy, the Supreme Court explained that once the plaintiff demonstrates his speech was constitutionally protected and such speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the defendant's actions, the defendant is entitled to demonstrate "by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have reached the same decision ... even in the absence of the protected conduct." 429 U.S. at 287, 97 S.Ct. at 576. See also Givhan v. Western Line Consol. School Dist., 439 U.S. at 416, 99 S.Ct. at 697. In the present case, the defendants argue that under the third prong of the Mt. Healthy test, they introduced sufficient evidence to establish that the same decisions would have been reached, regardless of Knapp's constitutionally protected speech.
C. ALLEGED TRIAL ERROR
The defendants raise various claims of alleged trial error, only one of which we deem worthy of discussion — jury instruction 10.
The defendants argued to the district court, in a motion for new trial, that the effect of this instruction was to direct a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. The trial judge responded that:
On appeal, the defendants again claim that instruction 10, in effect, directed a verdict for Knapp.
According to the Supreme Court's reasoning in Pickering, Mt. Healthy, and Connick, a three-step analysis is required in a case involving the infringement of a public employee's First Amendment right to free speech. See Czurlanis v. Albanese, 721 F.2d 98, 103 (3d Cir.1983). The initial issue is one of law, whether the plaintiff's speech is constitutionally protected. See, e.g., Stern v. Shouldice, 706 F.2d 742, 747-48 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 993, 104 S.Ct. 487, 78 L.Ed.2d 683 (1983). If this burden is satisfied, the next question is one of fact, whether the constitutionally protected speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the defendant's actions. If this second burden is satisfied, the third question is also one of fact, whether the defendant defeated the plaintiff's claim by demonstrating that he would have reached the same decision in the absence of the plaintiff's constitutionally protected speech. See, e.g., McKinley v. City of Eloy, 705 F.2d 1110, 1115 (9th Cir.1983).
In the present case, the district court properly ruled that Knapp's speech concerning inequitable mileage allowance, liability insurance, and the grievance procedure was constitutionally protected, as a matter of law. Once Knapp satisfied this initial burden, he was entitled to have the jury consider the factual issue of whether his constitutionally protected speech was a substantial or motivating factor in the defendants' actions. In order for the district court to present this question to the jury, the court was required to inform the jury of its ruling that Knapp's speech was constitutionally protected. See, e.g., Czurlanis v. Albanese, 721 F.2d at 108. Furthermore,
We add that, in the context of this case, the district court also properly instructed the jury that Knapp's First Amendment right to free speech was violated by (1) superintendent Whitaker's oral reprimand of April 1, 1981; (2) superintendent Whitaker's confidential memo of April 1, 1981, to the Peoria School Board; (3) superintendent Whitaker's written reprimand of April 2, 1981; and (4) administrative assistant Hatton's reference to Knapp's violation of Board Policy 2111.10(11) in the evaluation of April 29, 1981. The defendants admit that each of these actions was taken in direct response to Knapp's communication with Peoria School Board members. Thus, in view of our holding that Knapp engaged in constitutionally protected speech, each of the defendants' foregoing actions was constitutionally impermissible.
D. LEGAL AND EQUITABLE RELIEF
The defendants next argue that the jury's compensatory damage award of $514,333 was "excessive, unreasonable, [and] unsupported by the record." It is well-settled in this circuit that "the actual measurement of damages is an exercise in fact-finding, which we are not permitted to second-guess unless `after reviewing the entire record, we are left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.'" Whitley v. Seibel, 676 F.2d 245, 252 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 942, 103 S.Ct. 254, 74 L.Ed.2d 198 (1982) (quoting Busche v. Burkee, 649 F.2d 509, 518 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 897, 102 S.Ct. 396, 70 L.Ed.2d 212 (1981)). Indeed, "[i]n determining whether an award is excessive, we are to accord substantial deference to the decision of the jury and will not disturb an award unless we are convinced that it is `monstrously excessive' or `so large as to shock the conscience of the court.'" Mary Beth G. v. City of Chicago, 723 F.2d 1263, 1275 (7th Cir.1983) (citing Huff v. White Motor Corp., 609 F.2d 286, 296-97 (7th Cir.1979) and Galard v. Johnson, 504 F.2d 1198, 1199 (7th Cir.1974)). See also Abernathy v. Superior Hardwoods, Inc., 704 F.2d 963, 971 (7th Cir.1983).
A review of the trial record reveals that Knapp claimed "roughly $4,000" in financial loss. This damage claim included the revenue lost from Knapp's removal as assistant baseball coach for the 1981-82 academic year, his removal from study hall supervision for the same 1981-82 academic year, and his nominal payments for the uninsured portion of the psychologist's bill. In addition, Knapp claimed mental suffering, emotional distress, humiliation, and loss of professional reputation that he could not "relate in dollars and cents." It is undisputed that the Peoria School District paid Knapp his full salary for teaching and coaching during the 1980-81 academic year and for teaching during the 1981-82 academic year, paid his medical bills, except a portion of his psychologist's bill, and continues to pay him an annual salary in excess of $28,600 for his teaching duties at Harrison Grade School. Based upon all of the evidence presented at trial, the jury awarded Knapp $514,333 in compensatory damages.
Knapp's alleged loss of professional reputation stems, in part, from the negative evaluations and memos placed in his personnel file concerning conversations with the Peoria School Board about matters of public concern, his transfer to Harrison Grade School, and his termination as assistant baseball coach at Woodruff High School. At the time the jury considered the issue of compensatory damages, it had no knowledge that Knapp also sought equitable relief in the form of expunging all documents in his personnel file relating to the constitutionally protected speech, reassigning
A public school teacher may recover compensatory damages, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for out-of-pocket expenses, mental and emotional distress, community humiliation, and loss of professional reputation caused by the infringement of his constitutionally protected speech. See Solis v. Rio Grande City Independent School, 734 F.2d 243, 250-51 (5th Cir.1984); McGee v. South Pemiscot School Dist. R-V, 712 F.2d 339, 344 (8th Cir.1983). In the present case, however, the jury agreed upon a compensatory damage award in excess of half a million dollars without ever having an opportunity to consider the effect that equitable relief would have upon the award. Our review of the record, and the fact that the district court's equitable relief clearly reduces Knapp's damages for loss of professional reputation, leaves us with a definite and firm conviction that the jury award of $514,333 is excessive. In United States v. Bruscino, 687 F.2d 938 (7th Cir.) (en banc), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1228, 103 S.Ct. 1235, 75 L.Ed.2d 468 (1983), we reasoned that when the issue of jury prejudice is raised on appeal, "[t]he trial judge will always be in a better position than the appellate judges to assess the probable reactions of jurors in a case over which he has presided." 687 F.2d at 941. Cf. Abernathy v. Superior Hardwoods, 704 F.2d at 971 (trial judge's "superior ability by virtue of having observed the jury first hand, to assess its fairness and competence"). We believe the same rationale applies to the computation of compensatory damages in this case. Accordingly, we remand the case to the district court with instructions that the trial judge review the trial record, "assess the jurors' probable reaction" to the equitable relief, and recalculate the compensatory damage award to an amount between $200,000 and $400,000.
We add that "[u]nder ordinary circumstances a federal court will not review, much less alter, a school board's decision to transfer an employee." Bowman v. Pulaski County Special School Dist., 723 F.2d 640, 645 (8th Cir.1983). This case does not present us with an ordinary circumstance; the jury clearly attributed Knapp's loss of his teaching and coaching positions at Woodruff High School to the exercise of his constitutionally protected speech. Thus, the district court, in order to effectively implement the jury's findings, properly reassigned Knapp to his previous teaching and coaching positions at Woodruff. Accord McGill v. Board of Ed. of Pekin Elementary Sch., 602 F.2d at 776. Indeed, the defendants do not contest the court's authority to reinstate Knapp — the defendants simply argue before this court that Knapp is not properly certified to teach high school level science courses in the State of Illinois. The defendants base their claim upon a portion of a letter dated March 23, 1983, from William Helton, Assistant Manager for the Illinois State Board of Education, stating that Knapp is "not qualified to teach science or health education at the high school level." The defendants contend that they presented this March 23 letter to the district court some six days before the court granted equitable relief, reassigning Knapp to his position as biology teacher at Woodruff High School. Upon review of the record, we are unable to locate any reference by the district court judge to the March 23 letter or any evidence concerning Knapp's lack of teacher certification in the State of Illinois. We find it unusual, if not odd, that Knapp, who taught in the science department at Woodruff for five academic years from September 1977 thru May 1982
E. PUNITIVE DAMAGES
On cross-appeal, Knapp claims that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion to amend the complaint to include a claim for punitive damages. The record reveals that on November 12, 1981, Knapp filed his original complaint against Peoria School District No. 150, superintendent Whitaker, principal McDavid, and administrative assistant Hatton, alleging, inter alia, that the "Defendants were conspirators engaged in a scheme and conspiracy designed and intended to deny and deprive [Terry Knapp] of rights guaranteed to [him] under the Constitution and laws of the United States...." On the issue of damages, the original complaint requested that the "Defendants jointly and severally be ordered to compensation [sic] Plaintiff in the amount of One Million Dollars." On March 25, 1982, Knapp filed a first amended complaint, adding assistant superintendent Burdette as a defendant but continuing to request that "Defendants jointly and severally be ordered to compensate Plaintiff in the amount of One Million Dollars." The parties continued pretrial discovery and on August 12, 1982, the district court entered the final pretrial order, which included a "written statement of ... contested issues of fact and law" that made no reference to a punitive damage claim. On November 5, 1982, the defendant filed a motion in limine to exclude "any evidence or reference to punitive or exemplary damages...." Some two weeks later, on November 22, 1982, Knapp responded to the motion in limine by requesting leave to file a second amended complaint alleging, inter alia:
The defendants responded that since the inception of this lawsuit in November 1981, a defense was provided to all the defendants under an insurance policy that included coverage for compensatory damages but excluded the payment of punitive damages. The defendants claimed they would be unduly harmed by a punitive damage claim at this late date because individual counsel would have to be obtained for each defendant to protect his individual interests and, as a result, additional discovery would be required on the issue of punitive damages. On December 17, 1982, the district court denied Knapp's motion to amend, stating that:
Knapp initially contends that the original and first amended complaints sufficiently alleged a claim for punitive damages if one liberally construes the language contained therein. We disagree. Neither the original nor the first amended complaint alleged
Knapp next contends that the district court abused its discretion in denying his motion to amend the complaint to include a claim for punitive damages. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a) provides that "[a] party may amend his pleading once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served ... [o]therwise a party may amend his pleading only by leave of court or by written consent of the adverse party; and leave shall be freely given when justice so requires." According to the Supreme Court in Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962), "[i]n the absence of any apparent or declared reason — such as undue delay, ... undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment ... — the leave sought should, as the rules require, be `freely given.'" 371 U.S. at 182, 83 S.Ct. at 230. Of course, the grant or denial of a motion to amend the pleadings pursuant to Rule 15(a) is within the discretion of the trial court. Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, 401 U.S. 321, 330, 91 S.Ct. 795, 802, 28 L.Ed.2d 77 (1971); Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. at 182, 83 S.Ct. at 230. In deciding whether or not to permit the amendment, "the trial court [is] required to take into account any prejudice that [the non-moving party] would ... suffer  as a result...." Zenith Radio Corp. v. Hazeltine Research, 401 U.S. at 331, 91 S.Ct. at 802.
The record reveals that Knapp filed the instant lawsuit in November 1981 but waited for over a year, until November 1982, before filing a claim for punitive damages. During this year-long period the parties conducted all necessary discovery and in August 1982, the district court entered a final pretrial order defining the issues to be litigated at trial. The pretrial order made no mention of punitive damages and Knapp offers no reasonable explanation for his undue delay in filing such a claim. Moreover, the untimely filed punitive damage claim, if granted, would have clearly prejudiced the defendants who invested a year preparing their defense to the allegations pleaded, without any notice of a punitive damage claim. According to the defendants, the School District's insurance policy covered compensatory damage awards but not awards for punitive, exemplary damages. The inclusion of a punitive damage claim, well after entry of the final pretrial order, would have forced the parties to reopen discovery and obtain independent counsel to represent their individual interests on the issue of noninsured punitive damages. See, e.g., Murphy v. White Hen Pantry Co., 691 F.2d 350, 353 (7th Cir.1982). The undue harm and delay in reopening discovery and obtaining separate counsel would have resulted in additional expenditures on the part of each defendant. In view of this prejudice, and the fact that the plaintiff waited more than one year to amend the complaint to include a claim for punitive damages, we hold that the district court judge did not abuse his discretion in denying Knapp's motion to amend.
We affirm the jury's finding that Peoria School District No. 150 infringed upon Knapp's First Amendment right to speak on matters of public concern and we affirm the denial of Knapp's punitive damage claim, but we remand this case to the district court with instructions to reduce the excessive compensatory damage award to an amount between $200,000 and $400,000. We further direct the district court, on remand, to provide the parties with findings of fact on the issue of Knapp's certification to teach high school level science courses in the State of Illinois.
Circuit Rule 18 shall not apply on remand.
The defendants claim that they presented this letter to the district court on March 24, 1983, some six days before the court granted equitable relief and reassigned Terry Knapp to his position as biology teacher at Woodruff High School. Upon review of the district court record, we are unable to locate a copy of the complete letter, any reference to the letter by the district court, or any evidence in support of the defendants' claim.