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Mousaw v. County of Saint Lawrence

August 4, 2010

PEGGY MOUSAW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE COUNTY OF SAINT LAWRENCE; THE COUNTY OF SAINT LAWRENCE BOARD OF LEGISLATORS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR CAPACITY AS THE ELECTED OFFICIALS OF THE COUNTY; KAREN ST. HILAIRE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS THE APPOINTED COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE COUNTY OF SAINT LAWRENCE. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David N. Hurd United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Peggy Mousaw ("plaintiff" or "Mousaw") brought this action alleging First Amendment violations of free speech/association and retaliation (for exercising free speech), state law defamation, and Fourteenth Amendment denial of due process. Defendants moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Plaintiff opposed and defendants replied. Oral argument was heard on October 23, 2009. Decision was reserved.

II. BACKGROUND

The following facts are set forth in the complaint. The facts are taken as true, and inferences are drawn in plaintiff's favor, as must be done on a motion to dismiss.

Mousaw was employed as Deputy Budget Director for defendant Saint Lawrence County ("County") beginning in June 2001. The County Administrator, Donald Brining ("Brining"), was her boss.

Plaintiff was elected to the Board of Education of the Colton-Pierrepont Central School District ("school board") in May 2003. She was frequently outspoken, and publicly criticized the school board's capital project, expenditures, and decisions. She was subjected to accusations and innuendoes by members of the school board and school district administration as a result of her outspokenness and criticism of the school board's actions.

Andrew Silver, Esq. ("Silver") was appointed attorney for the County in early 2006. Silver was also attorney for the school board.

In February 2006, Jeff Bristol ("Bristol"), the school's capital project clerk of the works, made a complaint that Mousaw had sexually harassed him. The school board commenced an investigation into the complaint.

In April or May 2006 school superintendent Martin Bregg called Brining at plaintiff's place of employment to inform him of the sexual harassment complaint that had been made against plaintiff.

In July 2006, Silver announced the formal charges being brought against Mousaw at a school board meeting. The press reported on the charges.

In September 2006 plaintiff filed a Notice of Claim against the School District. She sought injunctive relief and monetary damages related to the sexual harassment charges brought by Bristol and the ensuing investigation and planned evaluation of the merits of the charges by the school board. She alleged procedural due process violations, Freedom of Information Law violations, Open Meetings Law violations, and defamation.

In October 2006 Silver requested that plaintiff's seat for school board meetings be changed so that he would no longer be sitting next to her. His rationale for the request was that he was uncomfortable sitting next to Mousaw because she named him in the Notice of Claim.

In November 2006, plaintiff was called in to a meeting with Brining and Chair of the County Board of Legislators Thomas Nichols about an accusation by the school board president that plaintiff was doing school district business on County time. The school board president had asked that the County investigate and discipline Mousaw. She denied the charges and requested that any accusations be put in writing. That was never done.

The next day plaintiff requested a copy of her personnel file from Brining. He replied that he had no such file. Plaintiff made the same request to the personnel office, also to no avail.

Silver ceased being the attorney for the County effective the end of December 2006. Peter Lekki, Esq. was appointed County attorney in January 2007. In March 2007, Brining retired and Robert McNeil was appointed Interim County Administrator, becoming Mousaw's supervisor.

In June 2007, defendant Karen St. Hilaire ("St. Hilaire") was appointed County Administrator, succeeding McNeil as plaintiff's boss. She started work around July 16, 2007.

On that day, she met with Mousaw, telling her to terminate her lawsuit against the school district before it affected her employment.

In early September 2007, St. Hilaire accused plaintiff of stealing personal belongings of other employees and of stealing a County laptop computer which was later discovered to be out for service. Further, she complained about FOIL requests made to the County related to plaintiff's school board lawsuit. St. Hilaire moved Mousaw to a very small office without a phone or computer network access. She was excluded from regular department meetings, staff training meetings, and budget meetings. St. Hilaire also attempted to exclude plaintiff from attending committee meetings of the County Board of Legislators, but relented when plaintiff showed her a written job description that stated it was one of her job functions to go to those committee meetings.

On September 24, 2007, plaintiff filed a lawsuit (related to the 2006 Notice of Claim) against the school board and others*fn1 alleging retaliation, libel, slander, and defamation.*fn2

In October 2007, plaintiff inquired from personnel about how to make a complaint about harassment by St. Hilaire. Essentially she was told there only was a policy about sexual harassment which should be reported to the employee's supervisor, and if the alleged harasser was the supervisor they did not know how or to whom plaintiff could make a complaint. In November 2007 Mousaw complained to Lekki about harassment by St. Hilaire and requested a meeting with the Board of Legislators. Lekki took no action.

Plaintiff was on sick leave from December 10 to 18, 2007. On December 18, plaintiff's attorney wrote a letter to St. Hilaire setting forth a list of harassing, discriminatory, and disparate treatment she was suffering in her employment with the County. The letter requested that the County cease and desist ...


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