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Correa v. Working Families United for N.J.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 18, 2018

EDWARD CORREA, Plaintiff,
v.
WORKING FAMILIES UNITED FOR N.J., et al., Defendants.

          OPINION

          ESTHER SALAS, U.S.D.J.

         Before the Court is Defendants Working Families United for New Jersey (“Working Families”), New Jersey State AFL-CIO (“NJ AFL-CIO”), New Jersey State AFL-CIO Community Services Agency (“NJ AFL-CIO Community Services Agency”), and Charles Wowkanech's (collectively, the “Moving Defendants”) motion to dismiss Counts I and III of Plaintiff Edward Correa's Amended Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (D.E. No. 41). The Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343, and 1367(a). Having considered the submissions made in support of and in opposition to the Moving Defendants' motion, the Court decides the matter without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b). As set forth below, the Court GRANTS the Moving Defendants' motion to dismiss. Counts I and III are dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Background[1]

         A. The Parties

         Correa is a Hispanic resident of Dover, New Jersey. (D.E. No. 37 (“Am. Compl.”) ¶ 4). On February 11, 2014, he became the Executive Director of Working Families. (Id. ¶ 13). He was also the State Director of the We Are One New Jersey project (the “One N.J. Project”), a program of the N.J. AFL-CIO Community Services Agency. (Id. ¶ 4).

         Correa asserts claims against six defendants: Working Families, the N.J. AFL-CIO, the N.J. AFL-CIO Community Services Agency, Charles Wowkanech, the Town of Dover, and Dover's Mayor, James P. Dodd. (See Id. at 1).[2] Working Families is a New Jersey private entity and Correa's former employer. (Id. ¶ 5). At all relevant times, Wowkanech was President of the N.J. AFL-CIO (the parent entity, funder, and Trustee of the Board of Working Families). (Id. ¶ 8). Wowkanech was also President of the Board of Trustees of the N.J. AFL-CIO Community Services Agency, the fiscal agent and funder of the One N.J. Project. (Id. ¶¶ 7-8).

         B. Factual Background

         On May 12, 2015, Correa spoke during the “public comments portion” of a Dover town hall meeting and criticized Mayor Dodd's relationship with Dover's Hispanic immigrant community. (Id. ¶ 14). Correa was then serving as the Executive Director of Working Families and State Director of the One N.J. Project. (Id. ¶ 4). Correa alleges, however, that he spoke as a Dover resident and taxpayer and “not in his official capacity” as either the Executive Director of Working Families, State Director of the One N.J. Project, or representative of any other organization. (Id. ¶ 14).

         Minutes after Correa's speech, Wowkanech called Correa to inform him that Mayor Dodd had “made a complaint” about what Correa said. (Id. ¶ 15). Wowkanech explained that Mayor Dodd “was not happy” with Correa's “behavior” and that the Mayor “did not want to see him at the . . . Board of Aldermen meetings or stepped [sic] into Town Hall.” (Id. ¶ 16). Wowkanech then asked Correa to resign. (Id. ¶ 17).

         The next day, Wowkanech “stated that [Correa] had a choice of resigning, being terminated, or apologizing” to Mayor Dodd. (Id. ¶ 18). Correa responded in a letter to Wowkanech that “he would not resign or apologize” to the Mayor. (Id. ¶ 19). Wowkanech and the N.J. AFL-CIO then terminated Correa from his positions as the Executive Director of Working Families and State Director of the One N.J. Project. (Id. ¶ 20).

         C. Procedural History

         Correa filed an initial Complaint on April 20, 2016. (D.E. No. 1). Following dispositive motion practice, the Court (i) dismissed with prejudice Count I (Retaliatory Discharge) to the extent the claim was based on constitutional free-speech protections; and (ii) dismissed without prejudice Count III (Breach of Contract) because Correa did not reference or attach the employment manual on which his claim was based. (See D.E. Nos. 32 & 33).

         On January 8, 2018, Correa filed an Amended Complaint alleging retaliatory discharge because he “was discharged from his position based on his affiliation with the Hispanic immigrant community which was revealed in his speech, and he was terminated due to that affiliation and his race which was Hispanic.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 22). Correa renewed Counts II, III, and IV. (See Id. ¶¶ 21-42).

         Defendants Working Families, N.J. AFL-CIO, N.J. AFL-CIO Community Services Agency, and Wowkanech moved to dismiss Correa's Amended Complaint on February 8, 2018. (D.E. No. 41-4 (“Defs. Mov. Br.”)). Correa opposed the Moving Defendants' motion on March 6, 2018. (D.E. No. 43 (“Pl. Opp. Br.”)). The Moving Defendants replied in further support of their motion on March 14, 2018. (D.E. No. 46 (“Defs. Reply”)). The motion is now ripe for adjudication.

         II. Legal Standard

         To withstand a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.[3] “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.

         “When reviewing a motion to dismiss, [a]ll allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true, and the plaintiff must be given the benefit of every favorable inference to be drawn therefrom.” Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). But the court is not required to accept as true “legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. And “[t]hreadbare ...


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