United States District Court, D. New Jersey
DR. AUDREY CUFF, Plaintiff,
CAMDEN CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT and LARRY JAMES, Defendants.
M. KOBER 1864 RTE 70 EAST CHERRY HILL, N.J. 08003 On behalf
RICHARD L. GOLDSTEIN MARSHALL, DENNEHEY, WARNER, COLEMAN
& GOGGIN, PA MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. 08054 On behalf of
L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
case concerns claims by Plaintiff, a special education
teacher, that Defendants violated New Jersey's
Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 et
seq. (“CEPA”), as well as violated her First
Amendment and Equal Protection rights. Presently before the
Court is the motion of Defendants to dismiss Plaintiff's
complaint in its entirety. For the reasons expressed below,
Defendants' motion will be granted.
June 2017, Plaintiff, Dr. Audrey Cuff, who claims to be
“highly qualified to teach Language Arts and
Mathematics as a special education teacher in a
self-contained classroom, ” was employed as a
non-tenured special education teacher by Defendant Camden
City School District. On June 18, 2017, Plaintiff met with
the new Woodrow Wilson High School Principal, Defendant Larry
James. Plaintiff claims that James stated to her that he had
reviewed her qualifications and noted that Plaintiff was
highly qualified in the field of special education, and that
she was more qualified than him.
21, 2017, Plaintiff received her teaching schedule, which
provided that she would teach Language Arts as a special
education teacher in a self-contained classroom at Woodrow
Wilson. Three days later, on June 24, 2017, Plaintiff
received a new schedule which kept her at Woodrow Wilson but
assigned her to teach Health and Chemistry as a special
education teacher in a classroom shared with a general
claims that the new assignment was demeaning, and in effect a
demotion, because her new assignment did not take into
account her high level of qualifications in the field of
special education, her specialization of teaching Language
Arts and Mathematics to special education students in a
self-contained classroom, and her prior record of excellence
in teaching in that capacity. Plaintiff further claims that
her placement in a shared classroom was an inappropriate use
of government funds and a deprivation of her students'
rights to have the highest level of quality special education
teaching. Plaintiff additionally claims that James's
reassignment of Plaintiff was motivated by an irrational
“show of power” over Plaintiff because she had
higher qualifications than James.
24, 2017, Plaintiff sent an email to “Lead Educator R.
Martinez” expressing her opposition to her
reassignment. On July 25, 2017, Plaintiff spoke with James
about her reassignment who Plaintiff claims told her she was
not qualified to teach special education students in the
self-contained classroom, a characterization Plaintiff claims
is a pretext for James's alleged “show of
power.” On August 2, 2017, Plaintiff requested a
transfer to a different school. Plaintiff claims that the
principal of that school agreed to have Plaintiff teach in a
self-contained classroom there, but the transfer was subject
to approval by James. Plaintiff claims that James denied
Plaintiff's transfer request.
September 9, 2017, Plaintiff claims that James offered her a
different assignment. Plaintiff would keep her shared
classroom in Science, but she would have a self-contained
classroom for special education students in Creative Writing
and Psychology, upon the condition that Plaintiff would write
the curricula for both courses by September 11, 2017.
claims that after she wrote the curricula in two days, James
removed her from the Creative Writing class, and instead
placed her in a shared classroom in Health. Plaintiff claims
that this was demeaning and again motivated by a show of
power over her.
September 12, 2017, Plaintiff sent an email to Central
Administrator Lead Educator Dr. Michael Coleman to express
her opposition to James's September 11, 2017
reassignment. Plaintiff claims that Dr. Coleman informed
James about Plaintiff's opposition. On September 18 and
20, 2017, Plaintiff claims that even though James told
Plaintiff that he would be ordering textbooks for her special
education psychology class, they were unreasonably delayed by
September 30, 2017, Plaintiff wrote an email to Ms.
Buell-Alvis, Central Administration Affirmative Action
Coordinator. Plaintiff complained about her reassignments and
expressed frustration over James's delay in obtaining the
psychology text books, stating that she could not teach her
students effectively because of James withholding her books.
Months later, toward the end of the school year on May 9,
2018, Plaintiff's employment with the Camden City School
District was not renewed.
on the foregoing, Plaintiff claims that the Camden City
School District and James have violated CEPA and
Plaintiff's First Amendment and Equal Protection rights
by subjecting her to numerous adverse employment actions
despite her protected activity, which included voicing her
opposition to her reassignments and informing the affirmative
action coordinator about her inability to effectively teach
her class due to the withholding of her textbooks. Defendants
have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint on all
counts. Plaintiff has opposed Defendants' motion.
Subject matter jurisdiction
Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims
under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction
over Plaintiff's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. §
Standard for Motion to Dismiss
considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept
all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and
view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005).
It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it
contains “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss
does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's
obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his
‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels
and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements
of a cause of action will not do . . . .” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration
in original) (citations omitted) (first citing Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957); Sanjuan v. Am. Bd.
of Psychiatry & Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251
(7th Cir. 1994); and then citing Papasan v. Allain,
478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).
To determine the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must
take three steps. First, the court must “tak[e] note of
the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.”
Second, the court should identify allegations that,
“because they are no more than conclusions, are not
entitled to the assumption of truth.” Third,
“whe[n] there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a
court should ...