In the 1961 case of
Monroe v. Pape, the Supreme Court had held that cities and
other governmental bodies could never be sued under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 since they were not "persons" within
the meaning of the statute. Victims of constitutional violations
could sue individual wrongdoers but not the municipalities that were
responsible for the wrongdoers’ actions.
Monell overruled Monroe and held that
cities were persons and could be sued under § 1983. At
the same time, the Court held that cities could not be sued on a
respondeat superior basis, i.e., just because the wrongdoer was a city
employee. Instead, the Court held that cities would be responsible
only if the city employees’ actions implemented or executed "official
court recognized that it had provided more of a "sketch" than a map
of "the full contours of municipal liability under § 1983," and that its
decision left important issues unresolved: What was meant by the
phrase "official municipal policy"? What city officials could make
such policy? Should cities be granted immunity for good faith
actions that did not violate clearly established constitutional rights?
These questions were left for subsequent cases.
the 1970’s, New York City policy required
pregnant employees to take unpaid leaves of absence before such leaves
were medically necessary. Jane Monell sued to force
the school system to revoke its maternity leave policy and to provide back pay to the
affected female employees.
lawsuit was pending, the city revoked its unconstitutional maternity
leave policy. However, it took the position that, even if
the policy was unconstitutional, the city could not be required to pay
back pay since it was not a "person" and could not be
§ 1983. Both the trial court and the Court of Appeal agreed with the
(represented by her husband, Oscar Chase) continued her challenge
in the United States Supreme Court which ruled in her favor on June 6,
1978. However, it was more than three years before she and
the other teachers finally received the back pay they were due.
Pictured are Jane Monell, Oscar Chase
and (upper right) Arlo whose not very impending birth led to the