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O'HARA v. BOARD OF EDUC. OF THE VOC. SCH. IN CAMDE

June 27, 1984

MARY O'HARA, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE VOCATIONAL SCHOOL IN THE COUNTY OF CAMDEN, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BROTMAN

 This action was instituted by plaintiff Mary A. O'Hara against defendant Board of Education of the Vocational School in the County of Camden pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. alleging various acts of sex discrimination. Although the materials of record in this case constitute a paradigm of jumbled accusations by the plaintiff, the gravamen of her complaint is that the defendant school board misclassified her teaching position, and terminated her employment as a tenured teacher on the basis of her sex. Jurisdiction is conferred on this court by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5.

 Presently before the court are three motions by the defendant: (1) for summary judgment, dismissing plaintiff's complaint, (2) for attorney's fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k) and (3) to enjoin plaintiff from filing further complaints against the Board, its agents or its counsel regarding all aspects of O'Hara's employment relationship with the Board. For the reasons which follow, the court will grant defendant's motion for summary judgment, but deny defendant's other two motions.

 I. Factual Background

 Plaintiff O'Hara was hired as a librarian by defendant in September 1973 and served in that capacity through the 1977-78 school year. She was approved for sick leave for the entire 1978-79 school year and did not return to work until December 17, 1979. Several months of the delay in returning to work were caused by plaintiff's failure to submit a physician's certificate of satisfactory recovery pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:16-1 et seq.1

 In September 1979 defendant abolished one of its two librarian positions. The library functioned with substitutes until October 10, 1979 at which time defendant reassigned a social studies teacher, who had previously handled library duties and possessed the requisite certificate to the remaining library position.

 When plaintiff returned to work in December 1979, she was assigned to a mathematics teaching position in compensatory education, a position for which she was qualified. No librarian positions were available at that time. See generally O'Hara v. Board of Education of Vocational School in the County of Camden, No A-1827-81T2 (App. Div. Dec. 30, 1982) at 3. Plaintiff challenged her transfer, contending that she should have received the librarian position since she had more seniority as a librarian than the incumbent. In a decision by the Superior Court, Appellate Division, the Board's action was upheld. Id.

 On May 20, 1982 the Board suspended plaintiff and instituted administrative proceedings to terminate her tenure. Plaintiff's Complaint at p. 2, para. 3. On March 14 and 15, 1983 hearings were held before the Honorable August E. Thomas, an Administrative Law Judge of the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law (OAL). In an opinion filed April 26, 1984, the ALJ recounted the procedural history, noting that "the ordinary processing of this matter has been difficult." Camden County Vocational Technical School, Camden County v. O'Hara, OAL Dkt. No. EDU 6445-82, Agency Dkt. No. 188-5/82A, at 2. Plaintiff had hired and fired several attorneys during the course of the action and often conveyed contradictory information to the ALJ about whether she was proceeding with counsel or pro se. See id. at paras. 10, 15, 16, 26 and 37 ff. When defendant's attorney's messenger attempted to hand deliver an order to depose Mrs. O'Hara, she "closed the door in the messenger's face, refusing to accept the order for depositions." Id. at para. 6. On the morning of March 14, 1983, the day set for the OAL hearing, O'Hara did not appear. Instead, a law clerk from the office of Beverly K. Thompson, Esq., purportedly plaintiff's attorney, telephoned the ALJ's office to inform him that plaintiff had been admitted to a hospital with "severe abdominal pain." The ALJ also issued an order, returnable March 15, 1983, for plaintiff to Show Cause why she did not appear at the tenure hearing. The order allowed plaintiff to explain her absence and her doctor's diagnosis. Id. at para. 23. On a motion by the Board, the ALJ also suspended plaintiff's salary payments as of March 7, 1983, the day she refused to accept the order for depositions. Id. at paras. 19, 22.

 On the second day of the hearing, March 15, 1983, plaintiff's son called the ALJ's office to say his mother would "not be able to make it to the hearing today." Id. at para. 24. At the hearing on March 15, defendant's attorney, Robert F. Blomquist, Esq. presented a certification signed by two messengers employed by him. The certification stated that the messengers had attempted to hand deliver to Mrs. O'Hara the motion papers which the ALJ had ordered from the bench the previous day. Mr. O'Hara answered the door, conceded Mrs. O'Hara was at home, but said she could not be disturbed. When the messengers asked Mr. O'Hara to give the papers to his wife, he told them they should "mail them." The messengers taped the papers to the front door and left the premises. Id. at para. 25.

 The hearing commenced on March 15, 1983 without plaintiff's attendance. Defendant introduced documents into evidence and presented testimony from two witnesses.

 David Morton, an assistant director for adult education employed by the Board and plaintiff's supervisor, testified as did Superintendent of Schools Donald Springle. Id. at para. 27.

 On March 16, 1983, the ALJ notified plaintiff by letter that her tenure hearings had ended, but that prior to his disposition of the tenure charges against her, she might wish to respond to several questions. The letter concluded that plaintiff's failure to respond to the ALJ's concerns in writing by March 25, 1983, would be considered an admission of her intention to abandon her defenses to the tenure charges. Id. at para. 29. The ALJ also asked for specific information regarding her illness on March 14, 1983. Id. at para. 34.

 O'Hara responded in writing on March 25, 1983 that she was suddenly taken ill on the morning of March 14, 1983. She attached her physician's report which stated that plaintiff was treated for a headache and directed to see an eye doctor. This account contradicted that given by Thompson's law clerk that plaintiff had "severe abdominal pain." Id. at para. 36.

 In concluding that the plaintiff "needlessly confused and obstructed any orderly proceeding in this matter," the ALJ stated, "Assuming that [plaintiff] was legitimately ill on March 14, 1983, neither Beverly K. Thompson, Esq., nor anyone else appeared on respondent's behalf. Neither has there been any request for any adjournment made by Beverly K. Thompson, Esq. or by [plaintiff]." Id. at pp. 9 and 11.

 The ALJ then turned to the substance of the tenure charges against plaintiff. The Board had asserted that O'Hara had "issued vile and venomous oral and written statements against the district's administrators and her fellow employees as well as against her own attorneys, the Board attorney, and the State Judiciary." Accordingly the Board argued that the endless legal actions plaintiff generated, together with the harassing actions and scandalous actions against her fellow teachers made her unfit to continue as a teacher.

 Morton also testified that O'Hara refused to turn in the year-end grades for her pupils, objected to receiving an assignment by another teacher and objected to having to take inventory, which she considered a technician's job. Accordingly, he concluded that her continued insubordination rendered her unreliable and uncooperative and had a negative impact on the school. Id. at 12-13.

 Superintendent Springle testified that plaintiff had filed over twenty litigation actions against the Board and all of them had been unsuccessful. They had cost the Board more than $20,000 to defend and the Superintendent believed that plaintiff "was taking this shotgun approach with the hope that someday a pellet might hit." Id. at 16-17. Plaintiff had filed charges against the Superintendent that he was "fomenting fear tactics and committing white collar crime" and that he had offered perjured testimony at numerous hearings. Plaintiff also accused other school employees, the Board solicitor and other state employees of white collar crimes. Id. at 13-14.

 The Superintendent testified that an example of the plaintiff's behavior that caused the Board to bring tenure charges against her was a document in which she referred to herself as a "hostage Title I math teacher." Plaintiff repeatedly called herself a "hostage" when responding to any administrative memo, and this reference corresponded in time with the Iranian hostage crisis. In attempting to portray herself as similarly situated as the American hostages in Iran, she accused the Board of engaging in unlawful terroristic activities. Id. at 14.

 As an example of the impact of plaintiff's behavior on the other staff members, Springle testified that an older teacher, a Mrs. W., informed him that she had elected early retirement because of plaintiff's behavior. When plaintiff was assigned as a team teacher with Mrs. W., she

 
walked to the front of the classroom one day, in front of a roomful of pupils, and drew a chalk line down the middle of the chalkboard to the floor, completely through the center of the floor to the rear of the room and up the rear wall and stated, "Mrs. W., this is your side of the room and this is my side. You stay over there and I'll stay over here." Mrs. W. left the district in the middle of the school year. Id. at 15-16.

 Based on the procedural history of this matter and the evidence, only a fraction of which this court has recounted, the ALJ concluded that (1) the plaintiff was given a full opportunity to defend herself against the Board's charges, (2) the plaintiff had abandoned her defenses to the charges by manipulating her absence from the hearing on March 15, 1983, (3) the plaintiff's actions were "bizarre, ludicrous and contributed to a substantial disruption in the administration of the school district" and (4) the charges were true in fact ...


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