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Czaplinski v. Board of Education of City of Vineland

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 26, 2015

MARY CZAPLINSKI, Plaintiff,
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF THE CITY OF VINELAND, Defendant.

BARRY, CORRADO, GRASSI & GIBSON, PC Frank L. Corrado, Esq., Wildwood, New Jersey, Counsel for Plaintiff.

METHFESSEL & WERBEL, PC Jennifer M. Herrmann, Esq., Edison, New Jersey, Counsel for Defendant.

OPINION

JOSEPH E. IRENAS, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Mary Czaplinski ("Plaintiff") has brought suit against Defendant Board of Education of the City of Vineland ("Defendant") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that Defendant's termination of her employment violates her constitutional rights to free speech. Plaintiff now seeks a preliminary injunction against that termination.

Having held a hearing on March 26, 2015, and having reviewed the submissions of the parties, including Plaintiff's Complaint (Dkt. No. 1), Declaration (Dkt. No. 1-2), proposed Order to Show Cause (Dkt. No. 1-3), and supporting legal brief (Dkt. No. 1-4), as well as Defendant's letter-brief (Dkt. No. 4), the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to show a likelihood of success on the merits or irreparable harm, and Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief will therefore be DENIED.[1]

I. Relevant Facts

Plaintiff Mary Czaplinski has worked as a security guard for the Vineland School District for 12 years. (Czaplinski Decl., Dkt. No. 1-2 ¶ 2) On March 5, 2015, having learned on the news that black assailants had shot and killed a black Philadelphia police officer, Plaintiff posted the following comment on her private Facebook page: "Praying hard for the Philly cop shot today by another black thug... may [be][2] all white people should start riots and protests and scare the hell out of them." (Id. ¶¶ 5-6)

The following day, March 6, 2015, Plaintiff made two more posts: a photograph of the slain officer with the caption "This is what a hero looks like" at 3:57 p.m. and a comment at 6:38 p.m. stating the following:

I made a comment last night about the black thugs that killed a philly cop... there are thugs of every race... im just tired of race cards being played all over the place... whether black, white, Mexican, Spanish, Puerto rican, Cuban, polish, Italian, irish... we are people.... Maybe if we all just accepted the fact things could change.

(Id. ¶ 9)

That same evening, March 6, 2015, at 7:28 p.m., someone using e-mail address diversitymattersvboe@gmail.com and the name "Save VBOE" anonymously forwarded Plaintiff's post to the district's superintendent Mary Gruccio and executive director of personnel Joseph Rossi. (Id. ¶ 10) The e-mail included the comment "What type of employes (sic) do you have posting black thugs' comments? Employing racist security guards is trouble. Diversity matters regardless of race. Very troubling." (Id.)

The next day, March 7, 2015, an unnamed colleague and supervisor notified Plaintiff that Mr. Rossi had placed her on administrative leave due to "something to do with social media" and that she should not report to work until further notice. (Id. ¶ 11) In response to Plaintiff's request for details, Mr. Rossi advised Plaintiff by e-mail that she could schedule a hearing for March 12; that the charges against her were "Conduct Unbecoming a Public Employee" and "Other Sufficient Causes"; and that the matter involved a social media posting. (Id. ¶ 13)

Plaintiff's hearing took place on March 12, 2015, and the next day, March 13, 2015, Mr. Rossi terminated Plaintiff's employment with a letter stating the following grounds:

Your offensive and inflammatory remark is troubling for any person but it is especially inappropriate and disconcerting for a public school security officer. School personnel are entrusted to use training, judgment, and commitment to fairness to diffuse, resolve and/or appropriately react to disputes, rules violations, safety concerns, and other ...

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