United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
OWEN D. MALONEY, Plaintiff,
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF CLAPP MEMORIAL LIBRARY, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DKT. NO. 41)
KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON United States Magistrate Judge
This case arises out of the March 7, 2011 resignation of the plaintiff, Owen D. Maloney (“Maloney” or “Plaintiff”), from his employment as Library Director at Clapp Memorial Library (the “Library”) in Belchertown, Massachusetts (“the Town”). Maloney alleges that he was constructively discharged in retaliation for a statement he made on a matter of public concern in violation of his First Amendment right to engage in free speech. By his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff has asserted a claim against the Board of Trustees of the Clapp Memorial Library (the “Board”) and individual Board members Stephen S. Lanphear, Denise A. Smith, William S. McClure, Kevin Weiss, Christine Walker, and Barbara Sullivan (collectively, the “individual Defendants”) for violation of his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also brings a claim against the Board for breach of contract. The Defendants have moved for summary judgment on both counts of Plaintiff’s complaint.
The parties have consented to this court’s jurisdiction (Dkt. No. 32). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. For the following reasons, the court allows Defendants’ motion.
II. Statement of Facts
The Library was incorporated by Chapter 134 of the Massachusetts Acts and Resolves of 1887, “for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a public and social library for the diffusion of knowledge and to promote intellectual, moral and physical culture” in the Town (Dkt. No. 11, First Amended Complaint (hereinafter “FAC”) at ¶ 2). The governing board was to consist of between five and seven members, including the Chairman of the Board of Selectmen of the Town as a member ex officio. Any vacancies on the Board were to be filled at such time and in such manner as directed by the corporation. The Town was permitted to transfer real and personal property to the Library, including yearly disbursements for its expenses and maintenance.
During the time period relevant to this litigation, the Board was comprised of the six individual Defendants (FAC at ¶¶ 3-8; Dkt. No. 43, Concise Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Support of Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (hereinafter, “CSUMF”) at ¶¶ 3-8), along with Ronald Aponte, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen of the Town (FAC at ¶ 9; Dkt. No. 49-6, Affidavit of Owen D. Maloney (hereinafter, “Maloney Aff.”) at ¶ 21). Other than Aponte, who served ex-officio, all of the members of the Board were elected by the Board and all were volunteers (CSUMF at ¶ 11). The Board was responsible for all personnel decisions with respect to the position of Library Director (CSUMF at ¶ 12). Defendant Lanphear served as the Board president from 2004 through 2011 (CSUMF at ¶ 13).
Plaintiff was employed as Library Director from March 1, 1989, until April 11, 2011 (CSUMF at ¶¶ 9, 89; Maloney Aff. at ¶ 1). All Library staff, including Plaintiff, were paid by the Town, received the same pay raises as other Town employees, were subject to the Town Personnel Handbook, and were participants in the Hampshire County Retirement System in which all Town employees participated (CSUMF at ¶ 10; Maloney Aff. at ¶ 3).
Library staff reported directly to Plaintiff (Maloney Aff. at ¶ 20). Plaintiff did not believe every action he took to address patron behavior at the Library required Board approval (Maloney Aff. at ¶ 19). Defendant Lanphear went to the Library often, typically three to four times per week (Maloney Aff. at ¶ 17; CSUMF at ¶ 14). He and Plaintiff would discuss operational issues and, in 2008 and 2009, issues relating to obtaining library expansion grants and matching Town funds (Maloney Aff. at ¶ 17).
Plaintiff’s last signed employment agreement with the Board is dated July 1, 2005, for the term commencing on that date and running through June 30, 2008 (the “Employment Agreement” or the “Agreement”) (CSUMF at ¶¶ 18-19, Maloney Aff. at ¶ 4). The fifth paragraph of the Employment Agreement is entitled “Performance Review, ” and contains three provisions. The first provides for annual reviews of Plaintiff’s job performance, to occur in June of each year and to be documented on the Library’s performance review form, with one copy provided to Plaintiff and one copy placed in his personnel file (CSUMF at ¶ 19). The only signed written performance review of Plaintiff is from 1997 (CSUMF at ¶ 22). In 2009, the personnel advisory committee for the Library instructed Plaintiff to use the Town “Evaluation of Performance” form to create a draft review, which he did, but it was never acted on or finalized (CSUMF at ¶ 41; Maloney Aff. at ¶ 11). The second provides for the Board to meet with Plaintiff six months before the start of each review period to “discuss performance and address issues and questions which may have developed since the last performance review meeting …. to ensure that both parties are in close communication so that misunderstandings do not develop and problems are addressed before they become serious” (CSUMF at ¶ 19). The third and final review provision states that, “[i]n the event that potentially serious performance problems are identified during the year, additional meetings may be scheduled in order to resolve them” (CSUMF at ¶ 19) (emphasis added). It allowed for the possibility of developing new performance goals, and, should “conditions warrant, ” placing Plaintiff on a six month probationary period (CSUMF at ¶ 19).
The eighth paragraph of the Agreement is entitled “Termination.” It provides in pertinent part that, “[t]he Board of Trustees may terminate the Agreement and remove the Library Director if necessary for cause by a 6/7ths vote of the Board after written notice and hearing” (CSUMF at ¶ 19).
On at least four occasions during Plaintiff’s tenure as Library Director, he utilized profane language. The first was on September 28, 2007, when Plaintiff attended an annual meeting of the Friends of the Library (“FOL”) (CSUMF at ¶ 23). After the meeting, Plaintiff and several members of the FOL, including its president, Wendy Campbell, retired to McCarthy’s pub. There, Plaintiff and Campbell got into a verbal altercation, during which Plaintiff stated to Campbell, “Who the fuck do you think you are you sweet bitch?” (CSUMF at ¶¶ 24-28, 31). The Board initiated a formal investigation of the incident (CSUMF at ¶ 32). Based on the findings, the Board reprimanded Plaintiff in writing dated November 13, 2007 (CSUMF at ¶ 34; Dkt. No. 49-18).
The three remaining incidents occurred during Plaintiff’s final year of employment. On June 15, 2010, Plaintiff used the word “fuck” at a Board meeting (CSUMF at ¶ 49). The following month, on July 9, 2010, Plaintiff attended a prayer vigil for Mickey Brougham, a resident of the Town who had gone missing (CSUMF at ¶ 50; Maloney Aff. at ¶15). At least 50 to 100 individuals, including children, attended the event on the Town Common (CSUMF at ¶ 50; Maloney Aff. at ¶ 15). Attendees were given the opportunity to come up to a microphone and address the group. Taking up the offer, Plaintiff recounted a time when Brougham used his backhoe to help dig a grave for Plaintiff’s dog (CSUMF at ¶ 51; Maloney Aff. at ¶ 15). Plaintiff summed up his words by saying, “He did this for a fucking dog” (CSUMF at ¶ 51). Plaintiff apologized immediately thereafter and stepped away from the microphone (CSUMF at ¶ 51). Plaintiff also apologized during the next Board meeting on July 19, 2010, for his use of the word “fuck” at the previous Board meeting (CSUMF at ¶ 49).
On July 26, 2010, Defendant Lanphear sent a letter to Plaintiff referring to his “use of profanity at Board meetings such as the one on June 15, 2010 and at public gatherings such as the prayer vigil for Mickey Brougham on July 9, 2010, ” as “unacceptable, ” “unprofessional and inappropriate behavior, ” further instances of which could “result in disciplinary action up to and including termination” (CSUMF at ¶ 56; Dkt. No. 49-20).
Thereafter, on February 18, 2011, Plaintiff, along with four staff members and three volunteers from the FOL, participated in a project to clean the Library primarily to alleviate clutter (CSUMF at ¶ 66). Following a 90-minute lunch break during which Plaintiff consumed at least two beers, Defendant Sullivan arrived to join in the effort (CSUMF at ¶¶ 66, 69). Plaintiff took issue with Defendant Sullivan moving a podium from one location to another and placing a dictionary on it, rather than moving it to the Library basement where he had designated it to go (CSUMF at ¶ 70). According to Plaintiff, this was the first occasion during his tenure as Library Director when a Board member had come into the library and given direction to Library staff that contradicted his (Maloney Aff. at ¶ 20). Thereafter, Plaintiff advised Defendant Sullivan, “You don’t fucking know anything about libraries;” and “I do not like that Board, they don’t fucking know what they are doing, they’re archaic.” He also referred to Defendant Sullivan as a “stupid bitch, ” and characterized the Board’s restrictions on the staff’s consumption of food and drink on-site as “bullshit” (CSUMF at ¶¶ 71-73; Maloney Aff. at ¶ 20). Defendant Sullivan, for her part, did not direct any swearwords at Plaintiff (CSUMF at ¶ 70). The following day, Plaintiff sent an email to Defendant Sullivan in which he apologized for his “unpardonable behavior, ” admitted to being “disrespectful, insolent, and rude, ” and acknowledged that his note could not “excuse [his] actions” of the day before (CSUMF at ¶ 74).
On March 1, 2011, the Board met in executive session (CSUMF at ¶ 75). On Aponte’s motion (Dkt. No. 49-21), the Board voted unanimously to start the termination process with respect to Plaintiff’s employment (CSUMF at ¶ 75). The decision by the individual Board members to vote in favor of holding a hearing regarding Plaintiff’s possible termination was based on Plaintiff’s history of inappropriate behavior and language and his expressed disrespect for the Board (CSUMF at ¶¶ 77-81). On March 7, 2011, the Board provided Plaintiff with a written notice of its decision, which stated:
Your history of inappropriate behavior at Board meetings, in public and most recently directed at a Board member in front of staff is unacceptable. Your apparent disrespect for the Board displayed by this behavior on numerous occasions and your unwillingness to abide by certain policies and directives places the Board and the Library in a position which can no longer be tolerated. At a special meeting of the Board it was their unanimous decision to start the termination process outlined in the most recent Employment Agreement dated July 1, 2005. However, the Board is willing to accept your resignation in the form of an early retirement. Should you choose early retirement, it appears that you might be eligible to receive approximately $9, 000 in ...