On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania; D.C. Civil No. 86-1433.
Sloviter, Becker and Stapleton, Circuit Judges.
This appeal concerns the propriety of the district court's denial, without a hearing or findings of fact or conclusions of law, of plaintiff Diane Murray's motion for a preliminary injunction preventing defendant school officials from banning Learnball, a teaching methodology she favored, and retaliating against her for using and advocating the system. In the motion, plaintiff, a tenured high school teacher in a Pittsburgh public high school, requested that defendants, the Pittsburgh Board of Education, Vernon Phillips, Principal of the Letsche Alternative Learning Center, Alice Turner, English Supervisor for the Board of Education, Ruby Connor, Supervisory Program Specialist, Jo Ann Doran, English Supervisor, and Lee Nicklos, Director of Personnel, be enjoined from the following activities: enforcing the ban against her use of Learnball unless Phillips delineates every activity banned; disciplining plaintiff for violating the ban unless she is given written notice of the violation and an opportunity to respond to an uninvolved school administrator; and retaliating against her because she instituted an action against them or advocated the Learnball method. The district court denied the motion, as well as a request for a hearing on the motion, without discussion.
Plaintiff is an advocate of Learnball, a classroom management technique developed by Dr. Earl Bradley, also a teacher in the Pittsburgh public schools and a co-plaintiff in the district court. Learnball's basic elements, which include a sports format, peer approval, dividing each class into teams, student election of team leaders and an assistant teacher, giving students responsibility for establishing class rules and grading exercises, and imposing a system of rewards such as radio playing and shooting baskets with a foam ball in the classroom, are described in the Learnball Handbook. Murray is the executive director of the Learnball League International, which promotes the use of Learnball. Murray alleges that she has used Learnball in her classroom for over a decade and that the system has been adopted by many teachers.
Defendants were not supportive of Murray or Bradley's use of Learnball. They admonished both to limit their use of the method and Bradley was eventually fired, allegedly for violating orders that he cease using certain techniques associated with Learnball.
Murray filed suit on July 8, 1986, with Bradley as her co-plaintiff, alleging that defendants had harassed her because of her advocacy and use of Learnball and that they required her to limit her use of Learnball although there is no policy concerning general classroom management techniques teachers may use. She seeks compensatory and punitive damages, an injunction against violating her constitutional rights, and attorneys' fees. Defendants' motion to dismiss this suit was denied.
In an amended complaint, Murray alleged that harassment of her increased after she filed this lawsuit, culminating in a parent conference during which the parent allegedly assaulted Murray with the connivance of defendant Connor. After the assault Murray was unable to work for most of the school year. She requested a transfer to another school, based on the recommendation of her psychiatrist. During the following summer, Murray was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer. Upon her release from the hospital she informed the school, based on her doctor's recommendation, that she could return to work but that she should not be placed in a stressful situation and should rest if she felt stomach pain. The Personnel Director informed her that there was no position that met these requirements, that she should remain on sick leave, and that if her sick leave was exhausted before she could return to work without restrictions, she would have to request an unpaid leave of absence.
Plaintiff sought a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction allowing her to return to work. On October 6, 1987, the parties entered into a consent order which provided that she could return to work, that she would be given a new supervisor, and that complaints about her teaching would be processed through special procedures.
On August 26, 1988, just before the start of the following school year, Phillips informed plaintiff that she could not use Learnball at all because he did "not consider Learnball to be benefiting our students." App. at 146. Murray then filed the motion for a preliminary injunction at issue here on September 13, 1988. On September 16, 1988 the district court denied the motion, "without prejudice to the right of plaintiff to seek a T.R.O. should something develop between now and the date scheduled for [the Bradley] trial." Order, Record at No. 77 (Sept. 16, 1988). On August 1, 1989, the district court granted summary judgment against Bradley.*fn1 Thereafter, on September 6, 1989 Murray requested a hearing on her preliminary injunction motion.*fn2 The district court denied the motion on September 11, 1989, in an order stating:
Upon consideration of the record in this matter, and the various memoranda submitted by counsel, plaintiff Diane Murray's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction is denied. The motion for Hearing on ...