The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, Senior District Judge
Presently before the Court is the Motion by Defendant City of Camden Board of Education to Dismiss Count One of the Complaint for failure to state a claim under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act ("CEPA"), N.J.S.A. §§ 34:19-1 to 34:19-8. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be denied.*fn1
The factual recitation that follows accepts as true the facts as alleged in the Complaint. Plaintiff Jose Rivera was employed by Defendant as a teacher from the Fall of 2004 until March of 2008. (Compl. ¶ 4) During the 2007-2008 academic year, Plaintiff was assigned to teach a fifth grade class at the Sumner Elementary School, a facility administered and operated by Defendant. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 5) That year, Plaintiff's class was comprised exclusively of bilingual Hispanic students. (Compl. ¶ 5)
One day in February, 2008, Plaintiff was absent from school and his class was under the supervision of a substitute teacher. (Compl. ¶ 8) That day, one of his students attempted to replace a water cooler jug, but accidentally spilled some water. (Id.) As punishment for the spilled water, Vice Principal Theresa Brown required Plaintiff's entire class to eat lunch on the cafeteria floor, without lunch trays. (Compl. ¶ 9) Brown threatened Plaintiff's students with further disciplinary action if they discussed their punishment with anyone. (Compl. ¶ 11) The lunchtime punishment was repeated daily for over a week. (Compl. ¶ 9) Plaintiff was unaware of the punishment because the common practice among teachers at the school was to escort their students to the cafeteria for lunch, but not remain with the students while they ate. (Compl. ¶ 10)
Towards the end of February, 2008, a parent went to the school to complain about the lunchtime punishment. (Compl. ¶ 12) Principal Alex DeFlavis refused to speak with the parent, but the parent explained the situation to DeFlavis's secretary. (Id.) The secretary, in turn, alerted Plaintiff to what she had been told by the parent. (Id.) Plaintiff spoke with his students, who confirmed the punishment as well as Brown's threat of further disciplinary action. (Compl. ¶ 14) Believing DeFlavis was "indifferent to or in support of" the punishment, Plaintiff advised his students to tell their parents about their treatment and encourage their parents to call Defendant to complain. (Compl. ¶ 15) Thereafter, parents did, in fact, complain to Defendant. (See Compl. ¶ 16)
Immediately following the parents' complaints, Defendant suspended Plaintiff and reprimanded him for failing to notify DeFlavis of the punishment imposed by Brown. (Compl. ¶ 16) On March 18, 2008, without ever returning from suspended status, Plaintiff was terminated for "conduct unbecoming of a board employee." (Compl. ¶ 17) Following a public outcry, Defendant changed its reasoning for Plaintiff's termination, citing "insufficient certification[.]" (Compl. ¶ 18)
Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a Complaint alleging Defendant's actions violated CEPA, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendant now moves to dismiss Count One of the Complaint for failure to state a claim under CEPA.
While the current motion to dismiss is styled as one brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), it comes after the filing of Defendant's answer. Thus, the Court will treat Defendant's submission as a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). See Wyeth v. Ranbaxy Labs. Ltd., 448 F.Supp.2d 607, 609 (D.N.J. 2006) ("A motion made before an answer is filed is a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). A motion made after an answer is filed is a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c)."). The Court analyzes a motion for judgment on the pleadings via the same standard applicable to a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Id.; Leone v. Twp. of Deptford, --- F.Supp.2d ----, No. 08-1043, 2009 WL 1210618, at *2 (D.N.J. Apr. 29, 2009) (citing Turbe v. Gov't of V.I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991)).
In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must allege facts that raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). While a court must accept as true all allegations in the plaintiff's complaint, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008), a court is not required to accept sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations, unwarranted inferences, or unsupported conclusions. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The complaint must state sufficient facts to show that the legal allegations are not simply possible, but plausible. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234.
CEPA was enacted to "'protect and encourage employees to report illegal or unethical workplace activities and to discourage public and private sector employers from engaging in such conduct.'" Leone, --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2009 WL 1210618, at *6 (quoting Dzwonar v. McDevitt, 177 ...