United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Bissoon United States District Judge
before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the
Amended Complaint (Doc. 21), pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For
the reasons that follow, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss
(Doc. 21) will be GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED
parties are well aware of the factual and procedural events
giving rise to the pending motion, the Court will recite only
those facts alleged by Plaintiff that are material to the
Court's ruling. Plaintiff worked as the Director of
Security and Safety for Defendant West Mifflin Area School
District (“Defendant School District”) from July
1, 2013, to September 24, 2015. (Amended Complaint (Doc. 17),
¶¶ 10, 11). Plaintiff avers that his tenure as
Director of Security and Safety was marked by multiple
confrontations with his direct supervisors, Superintendent
Daniel Castagna and Assistant Superintendent Mark Hoover
(together, the “individual Defendants”).
(Id. ¶ 14).
other things, Plaintiff alleges that, on or about December
18, 2014, a secretary at the West Mifflin Area High School,
Cil King, accused Plaintiff of repeatedly using racially
demeaning terms to describe West Mifflin Area School
District's High School Principal, Phillip Woods.
(Id. ¶ 18). Plaintiff claims this accusation
was false. (Id. ¶ 19). Nevertheless, as a
result of Ms. King's allegedly false accusation,
Defendants Castagna and Hoover suspended Plaintiff from his
position as Director of Security and Safety for two days.
(Id. ¶ 20). Plaintiff claims that he was
suspended from his position prior to any investigation by
Defendants Castagna and Hoover into the validity of Ms.
King's accusation. (Id. ¶ 21). Plaintiff
further alleges that his suspension was immediately discussed
on the social media site, Topix. (Id. ¶ 25).
Plaintiff claims that:
In a Topix forum dated January 2, 2015, Plaintiff is accused
of using the “n-word” by several of the
website's anonymous users including, but not limited to
the following: In reference to the Plaintiff, one poster
wrote, “The midget secret service agent is on the way
out the door. He shouldn't bad mouth the
administrators.” Another user wrote, “I am
embarrassed to know that I shared my beloved [Marine] core
[sic] with this dis loyal [sic] disrespectful fool. He should
be ashamed for the core [sic], himself, and his family. I
hope the district gives the shell of the MAN the dishonorable
discharge he deserves!!” Another wrote, “He says
some very offensive things about minorities? They need to
send this outsider back to wherever he came from.”
Additional posts referencing Plaintiff's alleged use of
the “n-word” appeared on January 3, 2015, and
January 5, 2015.
(Id. ¶ 26).
Plaintiff acknowledges that the communications on Topix were
anonymous, he believes that Defendants Hoover and Castagna
(as well as possibly others yet to be identified) were
responsible for the statements because they were the only
individuals with access to information regarding
Plaintiff's suspension. (Id. ¶ 27).
Plaintiff claims that he “suffered fear, anxiety and
emotional trauma as a result of his unjustified suspension
and the resulting vicious public attacks on his
reputation.” (Id. ¶ 28).
between September and November 2015, Defendants Castagna and
Hoover accused Plaintiff of stealing food from West Mifflin
Area High School's cafeteria freezer as well as $1, 400
from West Mifflin Area High School's vault. (Id.
¶¶ 33-44). Once again, Plaintiff claims that these
accusations are false and that there is no evidence to
support them. (Id. ¶¶ 37, 44).
Nonetheless, based on these allegedly unfounded accusations,
Defendants Castagna and Hoover suspended Plaintiff from
September 4 to September 24, 2015. (Id. ¶¶
39, 45). Defendant Castagna also informed Plaintiff that he
would be recommending to the Board of School Directors at
their meeting on September 24, 2015, that Plaintiff be
terminated. (Id. ¶ 45). Plaintiff avers that,
as a result of the Defendants' “baseless
accusations” and “relentless attacks on his
professional reputation, ” he intentionally crashed his
car into a telephone pole in an attempt to kill himself on
September 9, 2015. (Id. ¶ 48).
thereafter, on or about September 11, 2015, Defendant School
District's Board member, Michael Price (“Mr.
Price”), contacted Plaintiff's brother-in-law,
James Dorney (“Mr. Dorney”), to inform him that
Plaintiff's job was in jeopardy. (Id. ¶
51). When Mr. Dorney asked Mr. Price why Plaintiff's job
was in jeopardy, Mr. Price responded that there was a past
issue regarding the Plaintiff's use of a racial term and
that Plaintiff was being accused of stealing food from
Defendant School District. (Id. ¶ 52). After
Mr. Dorney informed Plaintiff of his conversation with Mr.
Price, Plaintiff called Mr. Price. During that conversation,
Mr. Price informed the Plaintiff that he was aware that
Plaintiff was being accused of stealing $1, 400.00 from
Defendant School District. (Id. ¶ 53).
September 24, 2015, the Defendant School District's Board
of School Directors met and voted to terminate
Plaintiff's employment. (Id. ¶ 55).
Plaintiff claims that the Board based its decision on
Defendant Castagna's recommendation. (Id.).
Plaintiff states that “although Defendant Castagna did
not provide the Board with any reasons or evidence to support
his recommendation to terminate Plaintiff at the Board
meeting, [he] believes, based on his and Mr. Dorney's
conversation with Mr. Price, that sometime prior to the board
meeting, Defendant Castagna and/or Hoover told other members
of Defendant West Mifflin's Board of School Directors
that Plaintiff stole food and money from Defendant West
Mifflin and that he had used racial slurs in the past.”
(Id. ¶ 54).
avers that, following his termination, there were additional
anonymous communications about Plaintiff posted on the social
media site, Topix, which were untrue, painted him in a poor
and false light and otherwise defamed his character.
(Id. ¶ 61). Specifically, Plaintiff claims
that, “In a November 3, 2015 post on Topix, an
anonymous user inferred that Plaintiff's September 9,
2015, car crash was the result of Plaintiff having drugs and
alcohol in his system. On or about June 14, 2015, the same
user stated that the cause of Plaintiff's car crash was a
‘cocktail of drugs.'” (Id. ¶
62). Again, Plaintiff believes that Defendants Hoover and
Castagna (as well as possibly others yet to be identified)
were responsible for the allegedly defamatory statements
posted to Topix following his termination. (Id.
¶ 63). Plaintiff further alleges that “[a]fter
Plaintiff's termination, Plaintiff was approached by
Defendant School District's Athletic Director, Scott
Stevenson, and community member Dave Marshall on separate