On appeal from the Commissioner of Education, Docket No. 158-7/09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Graves and Yannotti.
Anthony Coluccio, Jr. (Coluccio) appeals from a final determination of the Commissioner of Education (Commissioner) removing him from his tenured position as a teacher with the New Jersey Department of Corrections (Department). We affirm.
Coluccio was employed as a cosmetology teacher at the Department's Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women (Edna Mahan or the facility). On June 24, 2009, the Department filed a preliminary notice of disciplinary action, alleging that Coluccio had an improper relationship with Heather Lindorff (Lindorff), an inmate at Edna Mahan, who was serving a six-year sentence. Coluccio was charged with conduct unbecoming an employee, improper and unauthorized contact with an inmate, and sexual harassment or discrimination.
On June 29, 2009, after a hearing, the Department suspended Coluccio without pay. On July 13, 2009, notice of the charges was forwarded to the Commissioner. Following Coluccio's July 25, 2009 request, the charges were held in abeyance pending disposition of a criminal investigation. In January 2010, after completion of that investigation, the Commissioner referred the matter to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing before an administrative law judge (ALJ).
At the hearing, the Department presented testimony from Lindorff, who stated that she had been working as a paraprofessional in the office of Kathy Morgan (Morgan), the Director of Education at Edna Mahan. Lindorff said her relationship with Coluccio began in October 2008, around the time of a community awareness day at the facility, when she and Coluccio spoke. They later exchanged jokes.
According to Lindorff, the relationship became sexual in November 2008. Lindorff asserted that Coluccio touched her breast on one occasion, and touched her buttocks numerous times. She said Coluccio once grabbed her hand and placed it on his crotch.
By December 2008, Lindorff was writing letters to Coluccio by hand or on her computer. She kept copies of the letters. She also retained a "post-it" note Coluccio wrote to her, in which Coluccio said that when Lindorff gets home, he would engage in certain sexual acts with her.
Lindorff kept the "post-it" note, although the note said that she should discard it. She gave the note to her mother, Mildred Cullinan (Cullinan), for safekeeping. Lindorff also spoke to her mother on a regular basis, by phone or when her mother visited the facility. During these conversations, Lindorff discussed her relationship with Coluccio.
Lindorff further testified that Coluccio completed an "Application for a Relationship" questionnaire that she had given to him. The form was sexually explicit and Coluccio completed it, indicating his sexual preferences. Lindorff referenced the questionnaire in letters to Coluccio in December 2008.
Lindorff additionally testified that the relationship with Coluccio continued until around Valentine's Day in 2009, when he told her to "lay low." The relationship became less intense, although Lindorff remained in contact with Coluccio through their interactions in the facility.
In May 2009, another inmate at Edna Mahan learned about Lindorff's relationship with Coluccio. The inmate reported the matter to administrators of the facility. They found Lindorff's letters to Coluccio and transferred her to the facility's maximum security unit. Lindorff initially denied ...