Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against Monroe-Woodbury School District

| 22 Feb 2012 | 04:54

    Lawyer for former administrator says he will appeal New York - A U.S. District Judge has ruled that Monroe-Woodbury school officials did not violate the First Amendment rights of former administrator James Rathbun when they discussed his employment with the state Comptroller’s Office. Rathbun’s “well-pleaded factual allegations, even when taken as true and read in the light most favorable to him, thus do not plausibly support his claim that Defendants violated any clearly established constitutional right,” U.S. Court Judge Laura Taylor Swain wrote in her ruling, issued Feb. 8. “Accordingly, Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity and the Complaint will be dismissed.” Rathbun, a former employee of the district, was represented by Michael Sussman. He claimed that the Monroe-Woodbury School District retaliated against him, in violation of his First Amendment rights, by reporting facts to the State Comptroller regarding the creation of his position of Deputy Superintendent. In a press release, School Board President Dr. Michael DiGeronimo said: “Although the judge ruled that the district did not violate Mr. Rathbun’s free speech, Monroe-Woodbury is a fierce supporter of the First Amendment rights of individuals and understands the importance of transparency in government. We are pleased Justice has prevailed once again.” In a telephone interview Tuesday, Sussman said he was planning to meet with his client and that Rathbun planned to appeal. “This is an interesting case,” Sussman said. “We’ll see what the (United States Court of Appeals for the) Second Circuit thinks about it.” The judge outlined the facts of the case this way: Beginning in January 2007, Rathbun served as Interim assistant superintendent for human resources; in September 2007, the school board hired him as deputy superintendent under a two-year contract. During the 2007-08 school year, his relationship with the defendants - former School Superintendent Joseph DiLorenzo and School Board President Dr. Michael DiGeronomo - deteriorated. In March 2008, the school board voted to fire Rathbun. After Rathbun retained counsel to contest his termination, the board voted to rehire him and pay him a $25,000 severance package if he agreed to end his contract one year early. He accepted. A subsequent state audit concluded that Rathbun, in his role as Interim assistant superintendent of human resources, had improperly recommended himself to fill the position of deputy superintendent. DiGeronomo and DiLorenzo agreed with the audit’s conclusion.