BOBO v. WILDWOOD PUBLIC SCHOOLS BOARD OF EDUCATION et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Robert B. Kugler on 4/20/2017. (dmr)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
(Doc. No. 59)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
WILDWOOD PUBLIC SCHOOLS
BOARD OF EDUCATION, et al.
Civil No. 13-5007 (RBK/KMW)
KUGLER, United States District Judge:
Lance Bobo (“Plaintiff”) brings claims for violations of his civil rights under section
1983, conspiracy to violate his rights pursuant to section 1985, retaliation, violations of the New
Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“CEPA”), and violations of the New Jersey Law
Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) against the Wildwood Public Schools Board of Education,
Gregory Rohrman, Dennis Anderson, Patrick Quinlan, and five John Doe decisionmakers
(“Defendants”). This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 59) on Plaintiff’s 1983 claims against Defendants Quinlan and Rohrman
and Plaintiff’s wrongful discharge claim against the Board of Education. For the following
reasons, Defendants’ motion is GRANTED.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND1
The facts, in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, are as follows: Plaintiff was
employed by the Wildwood Board of Education (“the Board”) as a custodian from July 20, 2005
until February 15, 2012. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 11; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 11. Defendant Patrick Quinlan
(“Quinlan”) has been the supervisor of buildings and grounds for the board since July 1, 2004.
Defs.’ Statement ¶ 12; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 12. Quinlan supervised all custodians employed by the
Board, and was Plaintiff’s direct supervisor during his employment. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 13-14;
Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 13-14. Defendant Gregory Rohrman (“Rohrman”), the Board’s Business
Administrator was Quinlan’s direct supervisor. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 15; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 15.
Plaintiff made employment-related complaints in a number of areas during his tenure.
Defs.’ Statement ¶ 18; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 18. These complaints regarded: 1) false boiler logs; 2) illegal
dumping of chemicals and waste; 3) mismanagement of taxpayer money; 4) inappropriate
behavior towards students by David Lee; and 5) the fact that some custodians lacked a
“necessary” Black Seal license.2 Plaintiff’s Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute (“Pl.’s
Statement”) ¶ 2 (Doc. No. 62).3 Plaintiff was employed on a yearly contractual basis, and his
employment was renewed continually from 2005 through the 2011-12 school years. Defs.’
Statement ¶¶ 20-21; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 20-21.
1. The Court notes from the outset that Plaintiff frequently responds to statements in Defendants’ Statement of
Undisputed Material Facts (“Defs.’ Statement”) (Doc. No. 56-1) with “[n]either admitted nor denied.” See Plaintiff’s
Amended Response to Defendant’s R.56.1 Statement (“Pl.’s Resp.”) (Doc. No. 69). When parties attempt to dispute
(or fail to dispute) a fact asserted and supported from the record without supporting their position with a citation to
the record, such assertions are insufficient to create an actual dispute of fact. The Court will regard these paragraphs
as undisputed for purposes of this Motion. See Juster Acquisition Co., v. N. Hudson Sewerage Auth., No. 12-3427,
2014 WL 268652, at *5 n.4 (D.N.J. Jan. 23, 2014) (“[A]ny statement that is not explicitly denied with a proper
citation to the record in a responsive Rule 56.1 statement is deemed admitted.”).
2. Plaintiff apparently complained that some custodians did not hold a “required” Black Seal license to work with
the boilers. Pl.’s Statement ¶ 2. However, it appears that the Black Seal license was not exactly “required” based on
emails between school administrators. See McFadden Certification (“McFadden Cert.”), Ex. E (Doc. No. 61-6).
3. The Court notes that Defendants did not respond to Plaintiff’s Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute. The
Court will regard these paragraphs as undisputed for the purposes of this Motion to the extent that Defendant’s
Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute does not contradict facts in Plaintiff’s statement.
Plaintiff made a number of verbal complaints to Quinlan alleging that employees were
falsifying boiler logs to indicate they were receiving training towards Black Seal licensure.
Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 22-23; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 22-23. It is unclear when Plaintiff originally informed
Quinlan of this alleged issue (Plaintiff states that he first complained in 2004-05; Quinlan claims
he had never heard complaints from any employee regarding the boiler logs before 2010). Defs.’
Statement ¶¶ 24-26; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 24-26. There is, however, no dispute that there is no evidence
that Quinlan discussed the boiler logs in any way with his supervisor, the Board, or anyone else.
Defs.’ Statement ¶ 32; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 32. Plaintiff claims that he once told Defendant Rohrman
about this issue on the phone in 2010, and “might” have brought up the boiler logs in a meeting
with Rohrman in 2010 or 2011. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 33-34; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 33-34. It is undisputed
that Plaintiff did not otherwise discuss the boiler logs with Rohrman or the Board. Defs.’
Statement ¶ 35; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 35.
Plaintiff also alleges that he made verbal complaints to Defendant Quinlan each year
about other employees illegally dumping chemical waste. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 37-38; Pl.’s Resp.
¶¶ 37-38. Plaintiff may have also brought up illegal dumping in a phone conversation with
Defendant Rohrman in 2009 or 2010. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 38; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 38. Plaintiff did not
submit any written complaints regarding alleged illegal dumping. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 40; Pl.’s
Resp. ¶ 40.
Plaintiff also contends that statements he made in a union meeting may have been a basis
for his termination. Plaintiff complained in said meeting that the Board was mismanaging
taxpayer money by failing to reduce the amount of overtime incurred by maintenance workers.
Pl.’s Statement ¶ 2. Defendant Rohrman mentions Plaintiff’s complaints regarding other
employees’ work habits in his fax to Dr. Glass. Id.
Plaintiff also made numerous complaints regarding David Lee (“Lee”), another custodian
at the high school. Plaintiff spoke to the school’s principal, Christopher Armstrong, on July 26,
2010 to report that he had seen Lee sniff a cheerleader. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 44; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 44.
This alleged incident occurred in November 2009, but Plaintiff did not tell anyone until July
2010 immediately after an argument with Lee regarding the way Lee stripped the gym floor.
Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 45, 52, 92; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 45, 52, 92. Plaintiff also alleged that he saw Lee
touch a female basketball player in “an affectionate way” in December 2009. Defs.’ Statement
¶ 47; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 47. Armstrong asked Plaintiff to submit written statements regarding the
allegations, which Plaintiff did on July 29, 2010. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 49-50; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 4950.
Plaintiff’s statement regarding the November 2009 incident claimed that he saw Lee
pretend to pick up a pen cap before he “sniffed the back of this girl from her ankles to her
shoulders, then walked away.” Defs.’ Statement ¶ 53; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 53. Plaintiff claims that Lee
called his action “an old trick.” Defs.’ Statement ¶ 53; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 53.
Plaintiff’s second written statement details a “January, February 2010” incident in which
Lee allegedly put his hands on a cheerleader’s shoulders. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 58-61; Pl.’s Resp.
¶¶ 58-61. Lee allegedly “came up behind” the young woman and “started rubbing her neck and
shoulders,” causing her to shiver and shake. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 61; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 61. Plaintiff’s
statement also explained that he did not tell anyone of this incident because he did not want to be
accused of lying about it. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 60; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 60. Plaintiff, however, claims that
he verbally informed Quinlan and McCarthy (the school’s Affirmative Action Officer). Defs.’
Statement ¶ 62; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 62.
Plaintiff also described other alleged incidents involving Lee during his deposition.
Plaintiff alleges that he saw Lee touch a basketball player inappropriately on her shoulder in
February 2010. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 63; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 63. Plaintiff did not make a written statement
regarding this incident, though he claims he verbally informed Defendant Quinlan and Carol Ann
MacDonald (the Union President). Defs.’ Statement ¶ 65; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 65. Plaintiff further
claims that Quinlan once told him that Lee was “always standing around staring at the girls”
during cheerleading practice. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 66; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 66.
Defendant Quinlan has testified that he immediately escalated Plaintiff’s allegations
regarding Lee to the Superintendent, Dennis Anderson, for the school district to investigate.
Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 68-71; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 68-71. Quinlan sent Lee to speak with McCarthy (the
Affirmative Action Officer) after Lee reported Plaintiff making disparaging comments about
him. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 73; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 73. McCarthy learned that Plaintiff had issues with Lee
from the time that Plaintiff began working at Wildwood. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 76; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 76.
McCarthy concluded that he could not determine what actually occurred in the incidents, in part
because Plaintiff reported them more than five months after they allegedly occurred. Defs.’
Statement ¶ 80, 83; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 80, 83. McCarthy also noted that no student ever reported
inappropriate behavior by Lee. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 81; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 81.
Plaintiff contends that McCarthy could have determined what happened because all
witnesses were still available. Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 80. Plaintiff also argues that McCarthy’s
determination was inaccurate because he misrepresented the information provided by Patrick
Rudden (another custodian). Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 83. Mr. Rudden certified that believed Lee had acted
inappropriately in the November 2009 incident, despite McCarthy’s representation that Rudden
did not judge Lee’s actions to be inappropriate. Rudden Certification ¶ 7-10 (Doc No. 61-10).
Superintendent Anderson scheduled a meeting with Plaintiff to discuss Plaintiff’s
allegations. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 84; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 84. Plaintiff actually met with the
Superintendent on August 13, 2010. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 85; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 85. The meeting was
documented in a letter, which details the school district’s displeasure with Plaintiff’s
unacceptable decision to not report the alleged incidents immediately. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 86-87;
Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 86-87. The letter also noted Plaintiff’s slanderous comments, accusations, and
threats against Lee. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 88; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 88. Anderson informed Plaintiff that he
should immediately “cease and desist” his comments about Lee; continued comments, threats,
etc. would lead to “disciplinary actions.” Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 89-90; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 89-90.
Plaintiff was transferred from Wildwood High School to the Glenwood Avenue
Elementary School at the beginning of the 2010-11 school year. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 93; Pl.’s
Resp. ¶ 93. Plaintiff claims that he was transferred after making a verbal complaint about Lee
which he did not submit in writing. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 94-96; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 94-96. McCarthy
informed Superintendent Anderson of new complaints from Lee regarding Plaintiff on
September 24, 2010. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 98; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 98. Lee informed McCarthy that he had
learned of a County Prosecutor’s Office investigation into Plaintiff’s allegations. Defs.’
Statement ¶ 99; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 99. Lee had also heard that Plaintiff was informing people that a
pedophile worked at the school and that Superintendent Anderson was “the head of a pedophile
ring.” Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 100-01; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 100-01.
Defendant Rohrman wrote to Plaintiff on December 20, 2010 to request a meeting. Defs.’
Statement ¶ 102; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 102. The content of their December 22, 2010 meeting was
memorialized in a letter from Rohrman to Plaintiff on January 5, 2011. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 103;
Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 103. The letter detailed reports Rohrman received that Plaintiff was continuing his
negative comments regarding Lee. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 104; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 104. Rohrman asked
Plaintiff if he had new evidence to corroborate his accusations. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 105; Pl.’s
Resp. ¶ 105. Defendants claim that Plaintiff pointed only to Rudden (which was not new
information), though Plaintiff argues that Defendants mischaracterized and ignored Rudden’s
statements. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 105; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 105. Plaintiff made a new accusation during
this meeting; he claimed that he saw Lee “smelling teacher’s chair in the evening” and
“gawking” at female students during school dances. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 106; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 106.
Plaintiff testified that he saw Lee smell a chair in summer of 2007, though there is no record of
Plaintiff reporting this incident before the December 22, 2010 meeting. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 10708; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 107-08. Plaintiff later testified that he made a verbal complaint regarding this
incident to Rohrman in 2007. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 109; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 109. Rohrman’s letter went
on to inform Plaintiff that the District and Prosecutor’s Office both concluded that there was no
cause of action against Lee. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 110; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 110. Plaintiff was reminded
that he had previously been told to stop making accusations against Lee, and was informed that
further disparagement would subject him to disciplinary actions. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 111-14;
Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 111-14.
On or about December 2, 2011, Defendant Quinlan became aware of an issue with
Plaintiff’s work. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 118; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 118. Quinlan heard that Plaintiff was not
properly cleaning his assigned area. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 121; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 121. Quinlan spoke
with Plaintiff about the specific areas he needed to clean; Plaintiff claimed that he “didn’t get to
it.” Defs.’ Statement ¶ 123; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 123. When Quinlan observed Plaintiff’s assigned area
over the next few days, he observed that Plaintiff had clearly not cleaned the area (including
visible spills in the hallway from days earlier). Defs.’ Statement ¶ 124; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 124;
Defendants’ Exhibit CC at 2 (Doc. No. 44-4). Quinlan wrote up a Disciplinary Action Report
regarding Plaintiff’s failure to do his work on December 7, 2011, noting that portions of
Plaintiff’s area appeared as though they “were not touched,” despite verbal instructions to clean
specific things. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 116-17; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 116-17. Plaintiff contended that he
was unable to complete the amount of work required during his shift. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 125;
Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 125. Plaintiff however, admits that his work load at Glenwood Avenue was equal to
his work load at Wildwood High. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 97; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 97.
On December 9, 2011 Rohrman wrote to Plaintiff requiring him to attend a fitness for
duty evaluation due to Plaintiff’s behavior and claims that he was unable to come to work. Defs.’
Statement ¶ 126; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 126. The Board sent an additional letter to the same effect on
December 13, 2011. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 128; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 128. The District required Plaintiff to
make an appointment with a licensed therapist per the examining psychiatrist’s recommendation
as a condition of continued employment on January 6, 2012. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 129-30; Pl.’s
Resp. ¶¶ 129-30.
Quinlan authored two more memoranda regarding Plaintiff’s work performance on
January 21, 2012 and January 24, 2012. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 131, 133; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 131, 133.
The January 21 memorandum observed that Plaintiff’s cleaning log indicated that he had cleaned
areas that, upon visual inspection, had clearly not been touched. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 132; Pl.’s
Resp. ¶ 132. The January 24 memorandum documented Quinlan’s verbal warning to Plaintiff
regarding his job performance. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 134; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 134. When Quinlan
inspected Plaintiff’s areas on January 25, 2012, he found “zero effort of improvement in the
cleanliness of [the] assigned rooms.” Defs.’ Statement ¶ 135; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 135. Quinlan issued
Plaintiff a second Discipline Action Report for failure to clean his assigned areas on January 25,
2012. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 138-39; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 138-39. Quinlan gave this second report to his
superiors, but there is no evidence that he made any recommendations to the Board or a
supervisor regarding Plaintiff. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 140, 148-50; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 140, 148-50.
Plaintiff continued making comments and accusations regarding Lee after his second
Disciplinary Action Report. Lee informed Quinlan on January 27, 2012 that another custodian
informed a teacher “that one of the custodians in the [high school] is a pedophile and child
molester.” Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 151-52; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 151-52. Lee contacted Affirmative Action
Officer McCarthy on January 30, 2012 to report that Plaintiff had been “talking about ‘someone’
being a pedophile.” Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 154-55; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 154-55. Lee wrote a letter to the
District on January 30, 2012. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 157; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 157. Lee stated that he wrote
“out of concern for [his] well being,” explaining that he “feel[s] unsafe being in the same area”
as Plaintiff. Defendants’ Exhibit X (Doc. No. 43-3).
That same day, Rohrman sent Plaintiff a letter on behalf of the District stating that
Plaintiff was suspended for repeated acts of insubordination. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 160; Pl.’s Resp.
¶ 160. The letter cites Plaintiff’s disciplinary reports related to his work performance, previous
written instructions to desist harassing Lee, and recent, credible reports that Plaintiff continued
disparaging Lee as acts of insubordination. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 161-65; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 161-65.
The letter further explained that Plaintiff would be suspended until the Board met on February
15, 2012 to discuss Plaintiff’s employment. Defs.’ Statement ¶ 166; Pl.’s Resp. ¶ 166.
When the Board met on February 15, 2012, they discussed Plaintiff’s behavior in an
executive session before hearing from Plaintiff and his attorney. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 180, 182;
Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 180, 182. The Board voted to terminate Plaintiff’s employment for gross
insubordination. Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 183-84; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 183-84. The Board sent Plaintiff a
letter explaining their decision; the letter cited Plaintiff’s delayed reports of allegations regarding
Lee, Plaintiff’s continued accusations/harassment of Lee after investigations failed to corroborate
the accusations, and Plaintiff’s failure to complete his work as examples of insubordination.
Defs.’ Statement ¶¶ 185-86; Pl.’s Resp. ¶¶ 185-86.
Plaintiff filed the instant action in Superior Court on February 20, 2013. Complaint (Doc.
No. 1-1). Defendants removed the case to this Court on August 21, 2013. Notice of Removal
(Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint was filed on June 10, 2014. (Doc. No. 7). The
instant motion for summary judgment was filed on November 18, 2016.
The court should grant a motion for summary judgment when the moving party “shows
that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). An issue is “material” to the dispute if it could alter the
outcome, and a dispute of a material fact is “genuine” if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict
for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). In
deciding whether there is any genuine issue for trial, the court is not to weigh evidence or decide
issues of fact. Id. at 248. Because fact and credibility determinations are for the jury, the nonmoving party’s evidence is to be believed and ambiguities construed in her favor. Id. at 255.
Although the movant bears the burden of demonstrating that there is no genuine issue of
material fact, the non-movant likewise must present more than mere allegations or denials to
successfully oppose summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. The nonmoving party must
at least present probative evidence from which jury might return a verdict in his favor. Id. at 257.
Furthermore, the nonmoving may not simply allege facts, but instead must “identify those facts
of record which would contradict the facts identified by the movant.” Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J.
v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 311 F.3d 226, 233 (3d Cir. 2002). The movant is entitled to summary
judgment where the non-moving party fails to “make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).
A. Section 1983 Claim
“A public employee has a constitutional right to speak on matters of public concern
without fear of retaliation.” Baldassare v. New Jersey, 250 F.3d 188, 194 (3d Cir. 2001). In order
to properly state a First Amendment retaliation claim, “a plaintiff must allege two things: (1) that
the activity in question is protected by the First Amendment, and (2) that the protected activity
was a substantial factor in the alleged retaliatory action.” Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d
225, 241 (3d Cir. 2006). “The first factor is a question of law; the second factor is a question of
fact.” Id. at 241. A plaintiff can prove that his speech was protected activity by showing that: (1)
in making it, Plaintiff spoke as a citizen, (2) the statement involved a matter of public concern,
and (3) Plaintiff's employer did not have “an adequate justification for treating the employee
differently from any other member of the general public” as a result of the statement he made
under the Pickering test. Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 418 (2006); see also Pickering v.
Bd. of Educ., 391 U.S. 563, 568 (1968).
In order to prove that the protected activity was a substantial factor in the alleged
retaliatory action, the Plaintiff must show two things: 1) Defendants’ action(s) were “sufficient to
deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising his First Amendment rights . . .”; and 2) that
Plaintiff’s protected activity was a “substantial factor in causing this conduct.” Revell v. City of
Jersey City, 394 F. App’x 903, 905-06 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting McKee v. Hart, 436 F.3d 165, 170
(3d Cir. 2006)). The Third Circuit has observed that “[c]ourts have declined to find adverse
action where the ‘alleged retaliatory acts were criticism, false accusations or verbal reprimands.”
Revell, 394 F. App’x at 906 (quoting Brennan v. Norton, 350 F.3d 399, 419 (3d Cir. 2003)).
Assuming arguendo that Plaintiff’s allegations regarding Lee were protected speech, the Court
finds that no reasonable jury could determine that Defendants Quinlan and Rohrman’s actions
were sufficient to deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising their First Amendment
rights. The record contains instances of verbal reprimands (memorialized in letters) from
Defendant Quinlan to Plaintiff, but the only documented official reprimands were related to
Plaintiff’s inadequate job performance. Defendant Rohrman’s only apparent action against
Plaintiff was requiring Plaintiff to undergo a fitness evaluation, which was premised on
Plaintiff’s claim that he was unable to do his work. Therefore, the Court finds that Plaintiff has
not shown that any actions by Quinlan or Rohrman related to his allegedly protected speech were
sufficient to deter a person of ordinary firmness from exercising their First Amendment rights.
Furthermore, Plaintiff has failed to establish that his protected speech was a substantial
factor related to his termination. “To establish a requisite causal connection, a plaintiff usually
must establish either (1) an unusually suggestive temporal proximity between the protected
activity and the allegedly retaliatory action, or (2) a pattern of antagonism coupled with timing to
establish a causal link.” Revell, 394 F. App’x at 906 (quoting Lauren W. ex rel Jean W. v.
DeFlaminis, 480 F.3d 259, 259 (3d Cir. 2007)). The record clearly demonstrates that Plaintiff
made allegations regarding Lee over the course of many years. Defendant Quinlan’s first
Disciplinary Action Report issued on December 7, 2011 came almost a year after the District last
received reports of Plaintiff making allegations about Lee. Quinlan’s second Disciplinary Action
Report regarding Plaintiff’s work performance was issued on January 25, 2012. Lee reported
new comments and accusations by Plaintiff on January 27, 2012. The Court finds that no
reasonable jury could find that there was adequate temporal proximity between Plaintiff’s
allegedly protected speech and Quinlan’s Disciplinary Action Reports to establish a causal link
between Plaintiff’s speech and a retaliatory action. Therefore, because Plaintiff has failed to
establish that Defendants’ actions were sufficient to deter a person of ordinary firmness from
exercising their First Amendment rights and because Plaintiff has failed to establish a requisite
causal connection between his allegedly protected speech and Defendants’ actions, Defendants’
motion for summary judgment is granted as to Plaintiff’s section 1983 claims.
B. Wrongful Discharge
To establish a wrongful discharge claim under New Jersey law, a plaintiff must (1)
identify a clear mandate of public policy violated by his termination; (2) allege that he made
complaints about, or refused to participate in, conduct by defendants that violated that public
policy; and (3) establish that he was discharged in retaliation for opposing the conduct of
defendants that violated the public policy at issue. See Pierce v. Ortho Pharm. Corp., 84 N.J. 58,
Defendants argue, and the Court agrees, that the record is devoid of any evidence that the
Board was aware of any of Plaintiff’s complaints regarding falsified boiler logs or illegal
dumping. Defs.’ Br. at 28-30 (Doc. No. 56). Therefore, Plaintiff’s claim must be based upon his
allegations and complaints regarding Lee. Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s disagreement with
the conclusion of the Board and the County Prosecutor’s Office regarding his allegations against
Lee are not a clear mandate of public policy. Id. at 30. Plaintiff responds that he was free to
continue voicing his opinion regarding Lee since the investigation into his allegations was
inconclusive. Pl.’s Resp. Br. at 34 (Doc. No. 61). The Court observes that the record is devoid of
any evidence that the Board’s conduct regarding Plaintiff’s allegations violated a mandate of
public policy. Plaintiff’s complaints regarded allegedly illegal conduct by Lee, not the Board.
There is nothing in the record to suggest that the Board violated a mandate of public policy in the
way it investigated Plaintiff’s allegations against Lee. Therefore, the Court finds that no
reasonable jury could conclude that Plaintiff was discharged in retaliation for opposing the
conduct of the Board that violated the public policy at issue. Accordingly, Defendants’ motion
for summary judgment is granted as to Plaintiff’s wrongful discharge claim.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
s/ Robert B. Kugler
ROBERT B. KUGLER
United States District Judge
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