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Robinson v. State Operated Newark Public School District

August 26, 2010

MAUREEN ROBINSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OPERATED NEWARK PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT; STATE OPERATED NEWARK PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT ADVISORY BOARD; MARION BOLDEN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS SUPERINTENDENT OF THE STATE OPERATED NEWARK PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT; LEILA DINKINS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS PRINCIPAL OF THE MALCOLM X. SHABAZZ HIGH SCHOOL, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-10391-06.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted February 3, 2010

Before Judges Fisher and Espinosa.

Plaintiff Maureen Robinson, a teacher in the Newark Public Schools, filed a claim under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 to -8, after she was transferred to another school. She appeals an order that granted summary judgment to defendants and dismissed her complaint. We affirm.

The facts, viewed with legitimate inferences drawn in favor of plaintiff, can be summarized as follows:

Plaintiff is a tenured teacher employed by the State Operated Newark Public School District (the District) to teach special education students and was assigned to Malcolm X. Shabazz High School (Shabazz) from September 2001 through December 2005. The District had a policy that required all teachers to report suspected child abuse to the Newark Police Department and the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) immediately and then to inform the principal. Plaintiff testified that at a staff meeting in September 2005, defendant Leila Dinkins, the principal at Shabazz, discussed her concern that reports of abuse could have the negative effect of labeling the school as "persistently dangerous" under the No Child Left Behind Act, 20 U.S.C.A. §§ 6301 to 6578. Plaintiff testified that Dinkins instructed the teachers that they were not to contact either DYFS or the Newark Police Department without contacting her and that such calls were only to be made with her approval.

Plaintiff believed that this directive was contrary to the District's policy, and, during her time at Shabazz, she reported the vice principal for "kicking a kid [student]" and "punching a kid in the stomach." Shortly before her transfer, she again reported him for "slapp[ing] one of my kids in the face, ninth grader, special ed." Around the same time, she reported a male teacher, Paul Greaves, for sexually touching a female student. She reported these incidents to Dinkins only after informing DYFS and the police. It is undisputed that DYFS investigated each of plaintiff's allegations.

On December 19, 2005, plaintiff was involved in an altercation with Greaves.*fn1 According to plaintiff, she was conversing in the hallway with a security guard when Greaves walked between them and called in a loud voice to a student down the hall. Upset that he had purposely disrespected her, she followed Greaves into his classroom and confronted him in front of his students. She stated that Greaves blocked her from leaving the room with his body, and, while he "held [her] hostage," he insulted her. She forced her way through the door but was injured when Greaves tried to quickly close the door and pushed her with his hip.

Plaintiff met with the assistant superintendent and her union representative on December 22, 2005 to discuss the altercation she had with Greaves in front of students. Based upon her investigation, Dinkins determined that plaintiff "instigated the fight with Greaves in his classroom and in front of his students." By letter dated December 23, 2005, the assistant superintendent notified plaintiff that she was to report to the offices of the School Leadership Team II (SLT 2) until further notice.

On January 20, 2006, plaintiff was reassigned to West Side High School. It is undisputed that plaintiff was not demoted as a result of her transfer to West Side High School. She did not suffer any loss of salary or health insurance during the 2005-06 school year while she was assigned to the SLT 2 offices and West Side High School. She admitted that she did not suffer any financial loss in the 2005-06 school year other than a payroll error that was remedied within a reasonable time.

Plaintiff also admitted that she did not make any report to any local, state or federal agency about any allegations that Dinkins or defendant Marion Bolden had committed any acts in violation of any law, statute or regulation.

Plaintiff filed this action against the District and two of her former supervisors alleging seven causes of action, but stipulated to a dismissal of everything other than her CEPA claim. Defendants moved for summary judgment on the CEPA claim, which the court granted. The court reasoned that plaintiff could not meet three of the four required prongs of a CEPA claim. Specifically, the court found that: there was no credible evidence that plaintiff had engaged in a whistleblowing activity because the district required her to report instances of abuse; she had not suffered an adverse employment action because she was ...


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