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Wm. C. Plouffe, Jr. v. F. Javier Cevallos

June 1, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLaughlin, J.


This action arises from the plaintiff's termination from employment at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania (the "University" or "Kutztown"), a state university. The plaintiff, William C. Plouffe, Jr. ("Plouffe"), brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state laws against several Kutztown professors and employees for alleged constitutional and state law violations. He also alleges violations of his Weingarten right to union representation.

Defendants Robert Watrous, John Cavanaugh, and Michael Mottola now move to dismiss the plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Court will grant the motion with prejudice as to defendant Watrous, and deny the motion as to defendants Cavanaugh and Mottola.

I. Background*fn1

Plouffe is a former criminology professor at Kutztown

University. On or about January 5, 2008, Plouffe was hired by the University as a professor in the criminal justice department (the "Department") with a one year renewable contract. 3d Am. Compl. ("TAC") ¶ 26.

Over the course of his two years of employment at the University, Plouffe experienced multiple conflicts with other members of the Department and the University, particularly the Department chair, defendant Alexander Pisciotta, and another professor, defendant Keith Logan. These conflicts erupted over a variety of topics, including publication authorship, teaching course load and course assignments, a proposed Master's degree program, examination writing, a speaker series, and a Westlaw subscription. See TAC ¶¶ 27-42.

Plouffe's conflict with the University came to a head with his involvement on a faculty search committee during the Spring of 2009. Plouffe objected to the consideration of an unqualified candidate with personal connections to University employees. The candidate had lied on his application and represented that he received honors that he had not. TAC ¶¶ 44- 47. The other members of the committee still wanted to hire the candidate, but Plouffe filed a complaint with the University Dean, Provost, and Office of Social Equity, which sustained his petition and informed the Department that the candidate would not be considered for hire. TAC ¶¶ 48-50. This report is the alleged basis for retaliation against Plouffe, which ultimately led to the termination of his employment with the University.

During June or July of 2009, the Department lodged a complaint with the University administration against Plouffe.

TAC ¶ 57. On or about July 27, 2009, Plouffe met with the Dean about the complaint. The University provided insufficient notice as to the topic of the meeting and thus Plouffe did not have a union representative with him. TAC ¶ 61. Meanwhile, Plouffe was notified that an investigation was being conducted, although he was not given any specifics about the charges against him. His conflicts with Department members continued throughout this time. TAC ¶¶ 64-65, 66-67.

On September 3, 2009, Plouffe was ordered to attend an investigatory interview. He attended with union representatives but was not informed of the details of the charges against him. On September 16, 2009, Plouffe was notified that he was scheduled for a pre-disciplinary conference on September 18, 2009. Plouffe believes that the scheduling of the conference provided insufficient time to prepare a defense and evidences bad faith.

The hearing was rescheduled for October 6, 2009 and the University refused to provide discovery sought by Plouffe. TAC ¶¶ 69-72.

At the October 6, 2009 hearing, Plouffe answered the questions asked of him, but was denied the opportunity to respond to the other charges against him. A person apparently from the office of the Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education ("PASSHE") was present during the hearing and responded to Plouffe's legal arguments. Although he received permission to submit more documents following the hearing, Plouffe did not have the opportunity to do so before a decision was made. TAC ¶¶ 73, 74.

On the Friday following the hearing, Plouffe received a formal letter from the University notifying him of his immediate dismissal. The stated reasons were (1) failing to develop constructive relationships with the Department and (2) contributing to significant conflicts inhibiting ...

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