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CIOFFI v. AVERILL PARK CENTRAL SCH. DIST. BD. OF EDUC.

September 30, 2004.

LOUIS J. CIOFFI, III, Plaintiff,
v.
AVERILL PARK CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF EDUCATION; AVERILL PARK HIGH SCHOOL; AVERILL PARK CENTRAL SCHOOL DISTRICT; THOMAS P. McGREEVY; and MICHAEL J. JOHNSON, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID HURD, District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

  The complaint alleges three causes of action: First Amendment retaliation, due process, and conspiracy to violate plaintiff's civil rights. Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R. Civ. P. 56. Plaintiff opposes. Oral argument was heard on August 27, 2004, in Albany, New York. II. FACTS

  The following facts are not in dispute or are viewed most favorable to the non-moving plaintiff.

  Plaintiff Louis Cioffi ("Cioffi" or "plaintiff") was employed by the defendant Averill Park Central School District ("District") since 1979. He was a part-time social studies teacher and part time Athletic Director from 1981 to 1999. In June 1999 he was promoted to a full-time administrative position, Athletic Director and Director of Physical Education (a tenured position).

  Kevin Earl ("Earl") was hired by the District in 1994. He was a physical education teacher and head varsity football coach.

  The relationship between Cioffi and Earl was acrimonious from the beginning. Plaintiff continuously complained about how Earl ran the football program, saying that the program was out of control.

  Defendant Thomas McCreevy ("McCreevy") was a member of the defendant Averill Park Central School District Board of Education ("School Board") from 1992 to June 30, 2002, and was president from 1998 to June 2002.

  Defendant Dr. Michael Johnson ("Johnson") was Superintendent of Schools during the relevant times. Due to the tension between Cioffi and Earl, Johnson took a direct role in mediating relationships between them beginning in mid-2000. He changed Earl's teaching assignment from the high school to the middle school so he would have less contact with plaintiff. He also directed that plaintiff was to treat Earl fairly.

  During the summer of 2000, Cioffi's criticism of Earl became more public, and newspaper articles and other media coverage appeared regarding the controversy. Plaintiff, at some point in time, recommended that Earl not be reappointed head football coach. Earl was, however, reappointed. After Earl's reassignment to the middle school, there was a public outcry because he would have less contact with the high school football players. A High School Climate Committee was formed to help diffuse the situation.

  In the fall of 2000 it came to light that Cioffi lacked the required Physical Education Certification to hold the position of Director of Physical Education. Johnson asked him to obtain the certification, but plaintiff contended that because of lingering physical effects from an electric shock he received the previous year, he was unable to do so. Therefore, special arrangements were made for plaintiff to remain in the full-time administrative position of Athletic Director by designating another teacher, Rit Aldi (who had the required Physical Education Certification), as Director of Physical Education with a $1,600 per year stipend.

  In November 2000, Cioffi and other teachers went to the School Board to complain about Earl. They complained about Earl's coaching of the football team and accused the football players of using performance-enhancing substances.

  In October 2001, it became known that a hazing incident had occurred in the high school locker room which involved a junior varsity football player. Cioffi complained about the way the incident was handled by the School Board, alleging that there was a cover-up to protect Earl. On November 7, 2001, plaintiff and the high school principal sent identical letters to Johnson, asking for the letters to be forwarded to the School Board. In the letter the plaintiff essentially disclaimed any personal responsibility for the hazing (as did the high school principal in her letter). Johnson and McGreevy were angry when they received the letters. Earl and all the other football coaches were suspended from coaching football for the 2002-2003 school year. Earl has not returned to coaching.

  On January 22, 2002, the School Board informally decided to reorganize some administrative positions in order to save money despite the fact there was no real fiscal crisis. It was decided to abolish plaintiff's position as Athletic Director effective June 2002, and to create a combined Director of Physical Education/High School Assistant Principal position with a starting date of July 2002. Because ...


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