When Arlene Ackerman still was superintendent of Philadelphia’s school district–before she resigned in exchange for a payment from the desperately cash-strapped district of almost $1 million, and before she then filed for unemployment benefits–she allegedly broke the rules by awarding a no-bid contract for school security cameras. A district administrator alerted the local news, the FBI, and state officials–and then he was fired. So he sued the district, Ackerman, and others under 1983 and Pennsylvania’s whistleblower law. The defendants sought dismissal based on qualified immunity, which the district court denied. Today, CA3 affirmed, holding that the defendants were not entitled to dismissal on qualified-immunity grounds. I’m not a First Amendment qualified-immunity expert, but this looks to me like a significant case for its embrace of a robust role for whistleblowers.
The case is Dougherty v. School District of Philadelphia. Opinion by Fisher, joined by Jordan and Hardiman. Arguing counsel were Blank Rome associate Will Rosenzweig for the school district and solo star Lisa Mathewson for the whistleblower.