Rendell-Baker v. Kohn

457 U.S. 830 (1982)


Kohn (D) is the director of the New Perspectives School, a nonprofit institution located in Brookline, Massachusetts. It is a private institution, but it operates under state law and receives 90-99% of its funding from state sources. The school issues high school diplomas certified by the Brookline School Committee. In its contracts, the school is referred to as a contractor. Rendell-Baker (P) was discharged by the school in January 1977, and the five other petitioners were discharged in June 1978. P's discharge resulted from a dispute over the role of a student-staff council in making hiring decisions. P advised the board of directors that she had been discharged without due process because she exercised her First Amendment rights. She demanded reinstatement or a hearing. The school agreed to apply a new policy, calling for appointment of a grievance committee, to consider her claims. P objected to the composition of the grievance committee, and its proceedings apparently never went forward. P filed this suit in July 1977, under § 1983, alleging that she had been discharged in violation of her rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. In the spring of 1978, students and staff voiced objections to D's policies. The five petitioners other than P, who were all teachers at the school, wrote a letter to the board of directors urging D's dismissal. The five teachers told the president of the board that they were forming a union. D discharged the teachers the next day. They brought suit against the school and its directors under § 1983, alleging that their rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments had been violated. The District Court granted D's motion for summary judgment. It concluded that the nexus between the school and the State was not sufficiently close so that the action of the school in discharging P could be considered state action. Nine days earlier a different judge of the District Court for the District of Massachusetts had reached a contrary conclusion. The District Court concluded that the school performed a 'public function.' It held that the defendants acted under color of state law, and denied the motion to dismiss. The Court of Appeals concluded that the school was not dominated by the State, especially with respect to decisions involving the discharge of personnel. The Court of Appeals rejected P's claim.