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Murphy v. Commonwealth

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 28, 2018

JOHN F. MURPHY Plaintiff,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS - EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE TRIAL COURT, HON. PAULA M. CAREY, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE MASSACHUSETTS TRIAL COURT, HARRY SPENCE, COURT ADMINISTRATOR OF THE MASSACHUSETTS TRIAL COURT, and STEPHEN G. ABRAHAM Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (DOCKET NO. 14)

          TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN DISTRICT JUDGE

         John Murphy (Plaintiff) brought this action asserting various claims against several defendants. Relevant here, against the Commonwealth, Plaintiff asserts claims for discrimination in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B (Counts I and II) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) (Counts III and IV), and tort claims for termination and adverse employment action in violation of public policy (Counts V and VI). Against Stephen Abraham, Plainitff asserts claims for aiding and abetting discrimination in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B (Count VII) and claims for civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12, § 11I (Counts IX and X). Finally, against the Honorable Paula M. Carey and Harry Spence in their official capacities, Plaintiff asserts procedural due process claims and seeks equitable relief in the form of reinstatement by means of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts XI and XII).

         For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion (Docket No. 14) is granted in part and denied in part.

         Background

         1. Pre-Termination Employment

         The following facts come from the Plaintiff's complaint and documents incorporated by reference to his complaint.[1] Factual assertions by the Plaintiff are assumed to be true for the purposes of this motion. Plaintiff was formerly employed as the Family Law Facilitator at the Worcester Probate and Family Court. In early 2011, in his capacity as the Family Law Facilitator, Plaintiff learned that staff was overcharging litigants who were filing cases to modify their child support. Soon after, Plaintiff alerted counter staff to cease charging these fees. When his instructions were not followed, he alerted Judge Denise Meagher. Judge Meagher confirmed that Plaintiff's position was correct and issued a letter instructing the court to cease charging filing fees. Even after this letter, however, counter staff continued to collect unauthorized fees from litigants, often these unlawful payments were made in cash.

         On December 7, 2011, the Office of the State Auditor issued an Official Audit Report that found that “the Register of Probate's Office was missing $3, 495 in Domestic relations entry fees” over a six month period. Defendant Steven Abraham responded to the report that “the funds in question are not actually missing and that some type of clerical error caused the $3, 495 discrepancy.” Plaintiff contends that court staff was in fact stealing fees that were being unlawfully collected, that Defendant Abraham was aware of this practice, and that Plaintiff's voiced opposition was a motivating factor in the subsequent termination of his employment.

         In July 2012, Judge Joseph Lian showed the Plaintiff tomato plants growing on the balcony of his courtroom. A co-worker called to the Plaintiff from the street to pose for a photograph before returning inside and the Plaintiff extended his arms to be visible from behind the protecting netting surrounding the balcony. Defendant Abraham summoned the Plaintiff to his office the next day and alleged that Plaintiff's presence on the balcony frightened people and that Defendant Abraham had received complaints that people believed the Plaintiff was attempting suicide. Further, Defendant Abraham contended that Plaintiff's use of the balcony was erratic, dangerous, and reflected poorly on the court. Consequently, Defendant Abraham suspended Plaintiff from his position as a family law mediator indefinitely. The following weekend, Defendant Abraham called the Plaintiff to inform him that he would not be allowed to return to work without a letter from a mental health professional certifying his fitness to return. The psychiatrist whom the Plaintiff was required to see wrote a report stating that the Plaintiff could return to work without restrictions. The report also noted that the Plaintiff was formerly prescribed Ritalin for Attention Deficit Disorder but had not taken it for many years. The doctor did not make did not make new diagnoses, confirm the former diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder, or recommend further treatment. The report was provided to Defendant Abraham and never shown to Plaintiff. Defendant Abraham demanded that Plaintiff satisfy two preconditions before returning to work. First, Plaintiff was required to resume taking Ritalin. Second, Plaintiff was required to hire a therapist and take part in psychiatric treatment. Plaintiff agreed to these preconditions on the erroneous assumption that they were being imposed based on the doctor's findings.

         Defendant Abrahams subsequently contacted the psychiatrist who examined Plaintiff. In October 2012, the psychiatrist, at Defendant Abraham's behest, issued an addendum to his report recommending the Plaintiff engage in further psychiatric treatment as a condition of continued employment. The addendum contained no reference to medication.

         After Plaintiff returned to work, he began to hear rumors that Defendant Abraham told others that Plaintiff was mentally ill, behaving erratically, threatening, and had a problem with alcohol. Further, Defendant Abraham began treating Plaintiff differently upon his return to work. Defendant Abraham began making false accusations against Plaintiff and imposing restrictions on him at work such as requiring him to make daily reports of his activities.

         Plaintiff contends that over a period of more than two years, Defendant Abraham exhibited differential treatment towards the Plaintiff in accordance with his perception that the Plaintiff suffered from mental illness. Further, Defendant Abrahams encouraged others to exhibit the same differential treatment. During that time, however, no litigant, co-worker, attorney or judge made any complaints regarding the plaintiff's mental health.

         2. Pre-Termination Process

         On May 7, 2013, Defendant Abraham held a hearing to determine whether there was just cause to discharge the Plaintiff. On May 14, 2013, Defendant Abraham issued his findings and notified the Plaintiff in writing that his employment was being terminated for a number of reasons. First, Defendant Abraham alleged that the Plaintiff's behavior was threatening to him and his family and that the Plaintiff was keeping him under surveillance. Second, Defendant Abraham alleged that Plaintiff maligned his reputation to other staff at the court and people in the community. Third, Defendant Abraham alleged that the Plaintiff became excessively involved in cases and gave legal advice to pro se litigants. Fourth, Defendant Abrahams claimed that he was notified on March 15, 2013 that the Plaintiff smelled of alcohol at work the day before. Fifth, Defendant Abraham claimed that the Plaintiff lied about a dentist appointment on March 14, 2013 so that the Plaintiff could go home to sleep because he was drunk. Finally, Defendant Abrahams alleges that Plaintiff acted inappropriately in connection with a modification of a divorce agreement in November of 2012. Plaintiff rejects all of these reasons as patently false. Following the Plaintiff's termination, five Probate and Family Court Judges wrote a letter to the Trial Court supporting the Plaintiff's reinstatement and his right to a post-termination hearing.

         3. Post-Termination Process

         Following his termination, the Plaintiff immediately initiated the grievance process as established by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Trial Court and the Plaintiff's union. A hearing was eventually held on or about July 31, 2013 before Massachusetts Trial Court Human Resource Manager, Christine Hegarty. Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Hegarty had been counseled and advised by Defendant Abraham for several months about the Plaintiff's termination and decided to deny the Plaintiff's grievance before the hearing took place, which rendered the hearing a sham. On August 20, 2013, Ms. Hegarty denied the Plaintiff's grievance and upheld his termination.

         Following Plaintiff's grievance hearing, he immediately notified the union that he wished to pursue the next step in the grievance procedure, a Demand for Arbitration with the Massachusetts Trial Court. Under the terms of his Collective Bargaining Agreement, only the Plaintiff's Union can initiate this arbitration by filing a demand within twenty workdays after the initial post-termination hearing. The Plaintiff's Union, ...


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