United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' PARTIAL
MOTION TO DISMISS
RICHARD G. STEARNS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jennifer Salmon brought this lawsuit against the Chelmsford
School Committee, an elected body which appoints the
Chelmsford Public Schools Superintendent; Roger Lang,
Superintendent of Schools for Chelmsford Public Schools;
Linda Hirsch, Assistant Superintendent for Chelmsford Public
Schools; John Moses, member of the Chelmsford School
Committee; Jason Fredette, Principal of Byam Elementary
School within the Chelmsford Public Schools; Kurt McPhee,
Principal of McCarthy Middle School within the Chelmsford
Public Schools; and Patricia Tobin, Principal of Harrington
Elementary School within the Chelmsford Public Schools for
the 2017-2018 school year. Salmon alleges violation of her
First Amendment rights (Count I), defamation (Count II),
violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act (MCRA) (Count
III), and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count
IV), against defendants in various combinations. Pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), defendants Lang, Hirsch, and Tobin
move dismiss Counts I, III, and IV, and the School Committee
moves to dismiss Count I.
essential facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Salmon
as the nonmoving party, are as follows. Salmon began as a
teacher in the Chelmsford Public Schools in 2002.
Subsequently, she joined the Chelmsford chapter (CFT) of the
American Federation of Teachers union (AFT). While working at
Parker Middle School in May of 2016, Salmon was elected
president of the CFT. In that role, she advocated for
improved working and environmental conditions in the school.
Thereafter in 2016, Salmon received a lower performance
rating than she had in any of her ten previous years as a
Chelmsford teacher. After Salmon appealed the low performance
rating, it was elevated to “exemplary.”
Notwithstanding, she requested a transfer to another school.
She began teaching at Harrington Elementary School in the
2017-2018 academic year, during which time Tobin served as
the Interim Principal.
heard complaints from other Harrington teachers that
“that they did not have sufficient support for students
with special needs in their classrooms, and this resulted on
occasions with children being left unsafe. Salmon also
personally observed this.” Compl. ¶ 23. Her
colleagues requested that as their union representative,
Salmon raise these issues with school leadership. Thereafter,
Salmon “advocated for increased staffing and improved
monitoring of students to improve the working conditions of
her union members as well as to improve the educational
environment of students.” Compl. ¶ 24. She met at
least once with Principal Tobin and Assistant Superintendent
Hirsch in October of 2017.
November 21, 2017, Tobin abruptly canceled a meeting that
Salmon had scheduled with her for the following day. On
November 22, 2017, Salmon and another union representative
went to Tobin's office before the school day began, to
reschedule the meeting. The union representative spoke with
Tobin while Salmon sat at a nearby table. Tobin declined to
reschedule the meeting, and instead instructed the union
representative to speak with “her boss.” Shortly
thereafter, Superintendent Lang - accompanied by police
officers - arrived and instructed Salmon to leave the office.
Salmon returned to her classroom. A police officer then met
Salmon in her classroom and escorted her out of the school
building. Later that day, in a meeting with other faculty
members at the school, Lang expressed “that he was
‘shocked and disappointed with the actions of some
individuals'” and informed those present
“that ‘there was a right way and a wrong way to
get help within the school.'” Compl. ¶ 33.
November 22nd, Salmon received a letter notifying her that
she was being placed on administrative leave. The letter
informed Salmon that she was forbidden from talking directly
to students or staff members. Lang separately informed
parents and students in the Chelmsford Public Schools that
Salmon was “placed on paid administrative leave pending
an investigation into an incident at the school.”
Compl. ¶ 39. The “incident” does not appear
to have been specified. Salmon was prevented from attending a
parent-teacher conference for her son, who was a student at
the school; she also alleges that she was precluded from
taking her sons to and from the school.
the following weeks, parents, teachers, and other individuals
called for Salmon's reinstatement. More than 100 of them
appeared at a December 5, 2017 Chelmsford School Committee
meeting to support Salmon, however, only some of Salmon's
supporters were able to gain admission. The following day,
Lang and Hirsch informed Salmon that she would be reinstated.
On December 12, 2017, Lang reprimanded Salmon in writing for
insubordination, referencing the November 22nd incident as
well as a prior incident involving Salmon's alleged
review of a binder containing confidential student
information in the school's main office.
days later, a School Committee member voiced his belief that
Salmon had been placed on administrative leave because of a
physical altercation that had taken place on November 22,
2017. In response, Salmon arranged two meetings open to
interested members of the union in order to clarify what had
happened on November 22nd. At the second of these two
meetings, a teacher accused Salmon of lying, and held up
printouts of emails that Lang and/or members of the School
Committee had allegedly provided to union members “for
the express purpose of interfering with Salmon's
relationship with her union members.” Compl. ¶ 54.
that meeting, hate mail began to arrive at Salmon's home.
Salmon's work environment became increasingly hostile.
Neither Tobin nor Lang took steps to address Salmon's
growing concerns. In March of 2018, Salmon took a leave of
absence from the school because she had begun to suffer from
persistent panic attacks. She was diagnosed with an
autoimmune condition in April of 2018, attributable to
anxiety and stress.
requested to transfer to any of three open positions at Byam
Elementary School and McCarthy Middle School. The requests
were denied, even though Salmon contends that she had the
requisite training and experience. Salmon alleges that
“McPhee and Fredette [the school principals] denied
Salmon's transfer requests because of her past public
advocacy on behalf of the union.” Compl. ¶ 70. Her
later requests to transfer elsewhere were also denied. One
school principal rescinded an offer that had been extended to
Salmon after learning of the November 22, 2017 incident.
survive 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.'”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), quoting
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007). Two basic principles guide the court's analysis.
“First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all
of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable
to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
“Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim
for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Id.
at 679. A claim is facially plausible if its factual content
“allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Id. at 678.
I: First Amendment - 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as to defendants
Lang, Hirsch, and Tobin in their individual capacities, and
the Chelmsford School Committee in its official
state a claim under section 1983, Salmon must plead a prima
facie case showing that a person acting “under color of
state law” deprived her of a “right secured by
the Constitution or by federal law.” Santiago v.
Puerto Rico, 655 F.3d 61, 68 (1st Cir. 2011), quoting
Redondo-Borges v. U.S. Dep't of HUD, 421 F.3d 1,
7 (1st Cir.2005). Proceeding under the federal Civil Rights
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Salmon's Complaint alleges
that defendants retaliated against her for engaging in First
Amendment activity “by attempting to intimidate her
into silence.” ¶¶ 82, 83, 85.
Hirsch, and Tobin.
school employees cannot be “compelled to relinquish the
First Amendment rights they would otherwise enjoy as citizens
to comment on matters of public interest in connection with
the operation of the public schools in which they
work.” Pickering v. Bd. of Educ. of Twp. High Sch.
Dist. 205, Will City., Illinois, 391 U.S. 563, 568
(1968). At the same time, “in recognition of the
government's interest in running an effective workplace,
the protection that public employees enjoy against
speech-based reprisals is qualified.”
Mercado-Berrios v. Cancel-Alegria, 611 F.3d 18, 26
(1st Cir. 2010).
Salmon alleges that she lost her job, as well as future
employment opportunities that would have otherwise been
available to her, as a result of retaliatory actions taken in
response to her constitutionally protected speech. Compl.
¶ 86. ...