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Bruno v. New Brunswick Board of Education

April 15, 2009

DELFOS BRUNO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
NEW BRUNSWICK BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-9340-06.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued March 3, 2009

Before Judges Graves, Grall and Ashrafi.

Plaintiff Delfos Bruno appeals from an adverse jury verdict on his complaint alleging employment discrimination. He contends that, after the jury reported disagreement in its deliberations and asked for help, the trial judge erred in charging the jury essentially in accordance with model civil jury charge 1.20, "Supplemental Instructions as to Further Deliberations by Jury." Finding no error, we affirm.

Because the appeal raises only issues related to the court's instructions after the jury reported that its vote was split, we permitted plaintiff to present his appeal through abbreviated transcripts. We have no record of the factual evidence developed at trial and summarize here only what plaintiff has alleged in his brief and complaint.

In 1997, the same year that he earned a bachelor's degree at the age of approximately forty-three, plaintiff was hired as a bilingual elementary school teacher by the defendant New Brunswick Board of Education. In 2001, he learned that the school district "had a need for a Latino administrator." He applied and was promoted to acting vice principal of an elementary school. In late 2002, after he had obtained a master's degree, the designation "acting" was dropped from his title. Shortly thereafter, he assumed the combined position of school facilitator and vice-principal at a different elementary school in the district.

Plaintiff alleges that the principal of that school and other employees mocked his mannerisms and that the principal reprimanded him constantly for not being tough enough. He claims that the principal eventually urged him to resign, thus causing so much stress that plaintiff developed medical ailments. In April 2003, defendant board of education voted not to renew plaintiff's contract as vice principal. He was transferred back to his original school as a bilingual teacher. He took a leave of absence for much of the following school year to treat his medical and mental conditions that he alleges were caused by the school district's unlawful discrimination. He filed his complaint in April 2004 alleging discrimination based on his sexual orientation.

Trial began before a jury on March 26, 2007, and continued for the next two weeks. The eight-person jury deliberated for several hours on the first day of deliberations but did not reach a verdict. In the afternoon of the second day, the jury sent a note that said, "Four yes, four no. We can't agree. Help." The trial judge engaged in a lengthy discussion with counsel on the record about responding to the jury's note. The judge believed that she was required to read model charge 1.20 to the jury at least once before she could determine that the jury was deadlocked. That charge instructs the jury as follows:

You have informed me that you have been unable as a jury to reach a verdict in this case. I do not wish to know, and I direct each of you jurors not to tell anyone, how your vote stands.

Although you have a duty to reach a verdict, if that is possible, I have neither the power nor the desire to compel you to reach a verdict.

I do want to emphasize the importance and the desirability of your reaching a verdict in this case provided that each of you can do so without surrendering or sacrificing principle or personal convictions.

You will recall that upon assuming your duties in this case each of you took an oath. That oath places upon each of you the responsibility of arriving at a true verdict based upon your own opinion and not merely by agreeing with the conclusions of the other jurors.

However, opinions can be changed by discussions in the jury room. The purpose of the jury system is to reach a verdict by comparing views and by ...


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