Jett v. Dallas Independent School District
Petitioner Jett, a white male, was employed by respondent Dallas Independent School District (DISD) as a teacher, athletic director, and head football coach at a predominantly black high school. After repeated clashes with the school's Principal Todd, a black man, over school policies and Jett's handling of the school's football program, Todd recommended that Jett be relieved of his duties as athletic director and coach. The DISD's Superintendent Wright affirmed Todd's recommendation and reassigned Jett to a teaching position in another school, where he had no coaching duties. Alleging, inter alia, that Todd's recommendation was racially motivated, and that the DISD, acting through Todd and Wright, had discriminated against him on the basis of race in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 and the Equal Protection Clause, Jett brought this action in the District Court, which upheld a jury verdict in his favor on all counts. The Court of Appeals reversed in part and remanded, finding, among other things, that the District Court's jury instructions as to the DISD's liability under § 1983 were deficient, since (1) they did not make clear that, under Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611, such liability could be predicated on the actions of Todd or Wright only if those officials had been delegated policymaking authority or acted pursuant to a well settled custom that represented official policy; and (2) even if Wright could be considered a policymaker for purposes of the transfer of personnel, the jury made no finding that his decision to transfer Jett was either improperly motivated or consciously indifferent to the improper motivations of Todd. The Court of Appeals also rejected the District Court's conclusion that the DISD's § 1981 liability for Todd's actions could be predicated on a respondeat superior theory, noting that Monell had held that Congress did not intend that municipalities be subject to vicarious liability under § 1983 for the federal constitutional or statutory violations of their employees, and declaring that to impose such liability for only certain wrongs based on § 1981 apparently would contravene the congressional intent behind § 1983.
Held: The judgment is affirmed in part, and the cases are remanded.
Justice O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III, and IV, concluding that: