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Hunter v. Deptford Board of Education

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 1, 2019

CEDRIC HUNTER, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPTFORD BOARD OF EDUCATION, WALTER BERGLUND, RICK MARGOLESE, JOHN DOES I-X, AND ABC-XYZ CORPORATIONS, NAMES BEING FICTITIOUS AND UNKNOWN, Defendants.

          CEDRIC HUNTER Pro se Plaintiff.

          TIMOTHY R. BIEG MADDEN & MADDEN On behalf of Defendant and Cross-Defendant Deptford Board of Education and Defendant Rick Margolese.

          DANIEL POSTERNOCK MATTHEW ROYE LITT PASTERNOCK APELL, P.C. On behalf of Defendant and Cross-Claimant Walter Berglund.

          OPINION

          HILLMAN, DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is an employment discrimination and retaliation action in which Plaintiff Cedric Hunter claims Defendant Deptford Township Board of Education (the “BOE”) and two of its employees, Walter Berglund and Rick Margolese (collectively, “Defendants”), discriminated against him based on his race and age, and retaliated against him because he lodged complaints against them with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

         There are three motions before the Court: two Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants (Docket Nos. 125 & 126), and a “Motion to Suppress Evidence” filed by Plaintiff (Docket No. 127). For the reasons expressed below, this Court will deny Plaintiff's Motion to Suppress, and will grant Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         The Court takes its facts from the parties' statements of material facts not in dispute.[1] The Court will note any factual disputes where relevant.

         On an unspecified day in January 2012, Plaintiff was hired by the BOE as an evening custodian to be primarily staffed at Shady Lane Elementary School. Plaintiff's general duties included “[k]eep[ing] the building and premises including sideways, driveways, and play areas clean and safe at all times[;]” “[p]erform[ing] all proper cleaning methods to include dusting, sweeping, scrubbing, mopping, sanitizing, vacuuming, . . .of all areas of responsibility[;]” and “[p]erform[ing] all proper cleaning methods to furniture, floors, walls, doors, marker boards, chalkboards, lavatory fixtures, windows, computer and televisions monitors, computer keyboards, desks, water fountains, and building structures.” (Docket No. 125-5 (“BOE SOMF”) at 22, ¶14; BOE SOMF, Ex. C).

         At all times relevant to this action, Defendant Margolese served as the BOE's Assistant Supervisor of Custodians/Maintenance, and Defendant Berglund served as the Head Supervisor of Custodians/Maintenance. Defendants Margolese and Berglund were directly responsible for supervising Plaintiff's work.

         Over the course of Plaintiff's employment, Defendants received more than forty (40) complaints about his custodial work. After numerous complaints, on January 25, 2013, Plaintiff was confronted about his deficient performance and placed on the first of three corrective action plans. Pursuant to the first corrective action plan, Plaintiff received full retraining and was reminded of his job duties and the BOE's expectations of him.

         Complaints about Plaintiff's performance continued. For example, on March 22, 2013, a fifth-grade teacher complained that her classroom was not swept, and that trash was “sitting on the floor for three days[.]” (BOE SOMF ¶29, Ex. F).

         On April 3, 2013, a special education teacher complained that tables in her classroom were “not cleaned” during the evening hours, and areas around her classroom appeared not to have “been swept[.]” (BOE SOMF ¶29).

         On April 8, 2013, Shady Lane's School Principal, Jackie Scerbo (“Principal Scerbo”), wrote Defendant Margolese about Plaintiff's work performance. Principal Scerbo shared that a walk-though of the building revealed that the floors had not been cleaned the night before and that classroom desks were not cleaned. (BOE SOMF ¶29, Ex. F).

         On May 1, 2013, staff complained about “awful urine smell[s]” that were progressively worsening over the course of several days and could be smelled throughout the hallways. (BOE SOMF ¶29, Ex. F). On May 2, 2013, Principal Scerbo contacted Defendant Margolese to report additional complaints she received about Plaintiff's work.

         Around the same time, Plaintiff was placed on a second corrective action plan and again retrained. On May 2, 2013, Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of the second corrective action plan but objected to the assessments contained in it.

         On or about May 13, 2013, the BOE issued a written evaluation of Plaintiff's performance and deemed it to be “unacceptable to [the BOE's] standard of cleaning.” (BOE SOMF, Ex. G). Plaintiff was offered the following comments:

On January 10, 2013, I was called to Shady Lane to look at Cedric's area. The two student bathrooms were disgusting to say the least, and the rooms were not very clean. I was told, teachers were cleaning desks and other areas of the room. . . . On January 25, 2013, Cedric was put on a Corrective Action Plan (CAP). He was re-trained by one of my trainer custodians and myself. Over the last few months, I have performed inspections per the plan and have found his work to be unacceptable to our standard of cleaning. Though there was some improvement, overall, Cedric's section is unsatisfactory. During my inspections, I would tell Cedric how I wanted something done, or would give him advice and suggestions. My next inspection, I would find the same problem areas.

(BOE SOMF ¶30). Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of the written evaluation but objected to its findings.

         On June 14, 2013, Principal Scerbo wrote Defendants Margolese and Berglund to share that Plaintiff missed work the night before, and as a result, the school building was not cleaned.

         Following additional complaints, on July 1, 2013, Plaintiff was placed on a six-month probationary period. (BOE SOMF ¶40, Ex. J). Plaintiff objected to his probationary term as being a means of harassment. While the record does not make clear exactly when, around this same time, Plaintiff was transferred from Shady Lane to another school in the district, the Central Early Childhood Center (“Central”).

         On July 10, 2013, Central's Principal, Maria Geoffrey (“Principal Geoffrey”), emailed Defendants Berglund and Margolese complaining about Plaintiff's performance. Principal Geoffrey explained that Plaintiff was mopping the halls with dirty water and was not properly cleaning bathrooms. Principal Geoffrey also described Plaintiff's failure to properly clean the nurse's office.

         On September 5, 2013, Principal Geoffrey emailed Defendants Berglund and Margolese to share that “the bathrooms are not getting cleaned well” and that other tasks had been poorly completed. (BOE SOMF ¶43, Ex. K).

         On September 10, 2013, Principal Geoffrey complained that urine stains remained on the nurse's floor for several days, and that Plaintiff was again “not cleaning his area properly[.]” (BOE SOMF ¶44, Ex. L). That same day, supervisors met with Plaintiff about his deficient performance. During that meeting, Plaintiff requested additional training, which the BOE ultimately provided.

         On September 18, 2013, Plaintiff was provided with a document highlighting some of the complaints against him and outlining a perceived “lack of effort[.]” (BOE SOMF Ex. N). Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of this document but claimed it was the product of workplace retaliation.

         From September 23, 2013 through November 19, 2013, Defendants received numerous additional complaints about Plaintiff's work. (BOE SOMF ¶¶51-53). On November 20, 2013, Defendant Margolese inspected Plaintiff's work area and observed numerous deficiencies, including dirty floors and unkept bathrooms. (BOE SOMF, Ex. Q). Defendant Margolese shared these findings with Plaintiff by letter dated November 21, 2013, which Plaintiff acknowledged receiving. (BOE SOMF, Ex. Q).

         On December 4, 2013, Defendant reported to the BOE that “not only is there still no improvement with [Plaintiff's] cleaning, it has actually deteriorated.” (BOE SOMF, Ex. S).

         On an unspecified day in January of 2014, Plaintiff received a two-day suspension for poor performance. Thereafter, Plaintiff was placed on a third corrective action plan.

         Complaints about Plaintiff's work continued. On January 16, 2014, Defendants received a complaint that Plaintiff's section of the building remained littered with trash and dirty rags, was not vacuumed properly, and countertops appeared covered with dirt. (BOE SOMF ¶57).

         On March 24, 2014, the BOE issued a letter to Plaintiff advising him of the continued complaints against him and highlighting his under-performance. The letter noted that Plaintiff had “shown no signs of improvement” and was “performing far below the standards” expected. (BOE SOMF ¶59, Ex. V). Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of this letter but denied the accusations contained in it.

         On May 28, 2014, the BOE advised Plaintiff he was not being offered a renewed contract for the 2014-2015 school year due to his “[u]nsatisfactory job performance[.]” (BOE SOMF, Ex. W).

         On February 10, 2016, Plaintiff filed this matter with the Court. Plaintiff's Complaint contains four counts: one under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(h) (“Title VII”), for unlawful employment discrimination on the basis of race (Count I); one under Title VII for retaliation (Count II); one under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., for unlawful age discrimination ...


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