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Heuschkel v. McCulley

March 19, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge


This matter has come before the Court on defendants' motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims of retaliation and discrimination because of her gender. For the reasons expressed below, defendants' motion will be granted.


Plaintiff, Linda Heuschkel, has been employed as a health and physical education teacher by the defendant Sterling High School District Board of Education since 1981, and in due course, plaintiff was granted tenure. During her time at Sterling, plaintiff has served as vice-president and president of the Sterling Education Association ("SEA"), a union representing Sterling teachers in the collective bargaining process. As an officer of the SEA, plaintiff "has been an advocate of the rights of all union members, both male and female." (Compl. ¶ 14.)

Plaintiff alleges that defendants have discriminated and retaliated against her because of her gender, as well as because of her advocacy of union members in their discrimination claims against the school district. Plaintiff also claims that defendants have violated her First Amendment rights. Defendants have moved for summary judgment on plaintiff's discrimination and retaliation claims. Plaintiff has opposed defendants' motion.


A. Jurisdiction

Plaintiff has brought her claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, as well as pursuant to the New Jersey constitution and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. This Court has jurisdiction over plaintiff's federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

B. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).

C. Analysis

Plaintiff's complaint makes a general allegation that defendants' actions "were taken on account of her gender." (Compl. ¶ 48.) She also makes an allegation that she was retaliated against because of her gender-based protected activities. (Id.) Plaintiff's retaliation claim will be addressed first.

1. Whether Defendants Retaliated Against Plaintiff

Plaintiff claims that she was retaliated against in two specific ways because of her gender and because of her advocacy of her own and her co-workers' discrimination claims. One alleged retaliatory act by defendant is a written reprimand plaintiff was issued because of an email plaintiff sent to a male co-worker via the Sterling High School email system following a SEA meeting on November 9, 2004. According to plaintiff, at that meeting a male union member, Chris Carpenter, "expressed criticism and displeasure in the Executive Committee of the union, a committee upon which the plaintiff served." (Compl. ยง 18.) The next day, plaintiff sent Carpenter an email on the school's email system setting forth "her views on the union issues which had been raised by the dissident ...

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