Raniero v. Antun

Decision Date13 August 1996
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 95-580 (AJL).
PartiesLouis RANIERO, Plaintiff, v. Abraham ANTUN, Francis Mona, Felina Del Nodal, Adelaide Leone, Carlos Perez, Joseph R. Marini, Thomas Highton, individually and in their official capacities, Union City Board of Education, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Jersey

Nancy Iris Oxfeld, Balk, Oxfeld, Mandell & Cohen, Newark, NJ, for Plaintiff.

Kevin Paul Kovacs, Purcell, Ries, Shannon, Mulcahy & O'Neill, Bedminster, NJ for Defendants.


LECHNER, District Judge.

This is an action by Louis Raniero ("Raniero") against Abraham Antun ("Antun"), Francis Mona ("Mona"), Felina Del Nodal ("Del Nodal"), Adelaide Leone ("Leone") Carlos Perez ("Perez"), Joseph Marini ("Marini"), Thomas Highton ("Highton"), individually and in their official capacities (the "Individual Defendants"), and the Union City, New Jersey Board of Education (the "Board") (collectively, the "Defendants"). Federal question jurisdiction is asserted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. Raniero alleges a cause of action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for violations of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Diversity jurisdiction is not alleged.

Currently pending is a motion for summary judgment filed by the Defendants (the "Motion for Summary Judgment"), pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.1 For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

A. Parties

Raniero is a school teacher who has been employed by the Board for more than twenty years. Complaint, ¶ 1. The Board is a public entity that provides public education to all eligible residents of Union City. Id., ¶ 2. During the entire period relevant to the Complaint, Antun, Mona, Del Nodal, Leone and Perez were all Board members. Moving Brief at 4. At all relevant times, Highton was the Union City Superintendent of Schools and Marini was the Assistant Superintendent of Schools. Id.

B. Background

During the two years prior to filing the Complaint, Raniero applied for promotions in the Union City school district to Assistant Principal, Supervisor Vocational Education — Technical Subjects, Curriculum Resource Teacher and Guidance Counselor; he was not selected for any of these positions. Complaint, ¶ 12. During this same period, the Board filled a total of eight positions Raniero applied for, and for which the parties agree he was qualified. Moving Brief at 4. These included five Assistant Principal, one Supervisor of Vocational Education — Technical Subjects, one Guidance Counselor and one Curriculum Resource Teacher positions. Opposition Brief at 8-10.

Raniero alleges he was "equally qualified, if not more qualified" than the persons selected for promotion to Assistant Principal and Supervisor Vocational Education — Technical Subjects. Complaint, ¶ 13(I), (1). Raniero further alleges he was "more qualified" than the persons selected for the positions of Curriculum Resource Teacher and Guidance Counselor. Id., ¶ 13(o), (q).

Raniero alleges he was denied promotion "solely due to [his] refusal to take part in politics in Union City and/or Hudson County." Complaint, ¶ 13. Raniero specifically alleges he was denied promotion due to his lack of involvement with the Alliance Civic Organization ("ACO"). Id.

The ACO is a local civic and charitable organization that "supports candidates for political office at the local, state and national level." Moving Brief at 4. The ACO also conducts two fund raising dances a year. Opposition Brief at 7. "A dance is held each spring at $1,000 a head.... Each fall a dance is held that costs either $125.00 or $250.00 a person." Id. The ACO, additionally, sponsors annual charity events to benefit needy citizens of Union City. Id. These events include "a Christmas party with toys for children, St. Patricks Day and Columbus Day meals for senior citizens and the distribution of turkey for needy citizens at Thanksgiving." Id.

All of the Individual Defendants were involved with the ACO at some level during the relevant time period. Moving Brief at 4. Seven of the eight candidates who were selected for promotion to the positions sought by Raniero were also involved with the ACO.2 Id.; Complaint, ¶ 13.

Defendants respond the Board had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons to select the successful candidates instead of Raniero. Moving Brief at 5-6. Raniero did not participate in any after-school educational programs, did not teach or work for the school district during the summer break and was not regularly involved with coaching athletic teams. Id. Instead, Raniero "spent his summers as co-manager of a pool ... and his evenings running a restaurant." Id. at 2; see Raniero Dep. at 19, 93. Raniero's attempt to establish a job placement program at Emerson High School failed. Kovacs Cert., ¶ 4. Raniero, moreover, does not dispute that he did not submit letters of recommendation or a resume with his applications. See Moving Brief at 3. Defendants argue these facts demonstrate Raniero's efforts to obtain the promotions exhibited a lack of commitment. Moving Brief at 3.

Raniero merely argues the Defendants' response lacks credibility. Opposition Brief at 13. He supports his argument by pointing to alleged inconsistencies in Marini's deposition testimony as to the selection process and implies various Individual Defendants were untruthful in their testimony regarding the ACO. Id. at 17. He states Marini's consideration of extracurricular activities and additional documentation such as letters of recommendation was improper because "it was never announced that [the extracurricular] activities would be considered" and "applicants were never advised to submit [letters of recommendation] ... in their application." Opposition Brief at 13.

1. The Selection Process

When a position becomes available in the Union City school district, the position is posted throughout the district. Opposition Brief at 5. The posting provides prospective applicants with notice of the opening and lists the necessary qualifications. Id. Following the submission of applications, a list of applicants is created. Id. Marini then reviews the applications and interviews the applicants, at times in the company of the supervisor who will work with the successful applicant. Id. Marini makes a recommendation to Highton, id. at 6, who then recommends the selectee to the Board. Moving Brief at 5. At open meetings, the Board decides whether to approve the recommendation. Id.

2. Assistant Principals.

The competition for the available Assistant Principal positions was apparently fierce. Defendants contend Raniero was one of twenty-nine applicants. Moving Brief at 11. Marini testified "selecting [five] candidates from the highly qualified pool was tough but ... Raniero was not even in the running." Id. (citing Marini Dep. at 127-28). The five successful candidates for the Assistant Principal positions were Johnson, Ronald Treanor ("Treanor"), Robert Wendelken ("Wendelken"), Tony Perez ("Tony Perez") and Benjamin Perez ("Benjamin Perez"). Complaint, ¶ 13(d); Moving Brief at 12.

a. Johnson's Application

Johnson holds a Masters of Arts Degree in Administration, a Masters Degree in Student Personnel Services and a Bachelor of Arts Degree. Kovacs Cert., Exhibit C (Johnson Resume). Her resume also lists a "Certificate in Supervision." Id. Johnson had approximately thirty years of teaching experience at the time she was promoted. Marini Dep. at 67. She previously held the position of Helping Teacher, a position akin to assistant principal of a grammar school. Id. She was active in extracurricular activities, both during the school year and during the summer months. Id. at 69. Her application included a resume listing her qualifications and a letter of recommendation from Lucy Soovajian, who at the time was the Elementary Supervisor for the Board's Office of Academic Programs. Id. Despite his allegation that he "was equally qualified, if not more qualified" than Johnson, Complaint, ¶ 13(I), Raniero testified he did not know Johnson and knew nothing about her qualifications. Raniero Dep. at 60.

b. Treanor's Application

Treanor included with his application a letter from Mrs. R. Hernandez ("Hernandez"), the Vice Principal of Jefferson Magnet School in Union City, highly recommending him for a position of Administrator. Kovacs Cert., Exhibit C (Hernandez Letter, dated June 1993). Hernandez opined Treanor had the "skill, ability and experience to become an exceptional principal/vice principal." Id. Marini testified he was impressed with Treanor, describing him as "brilliant, a workaholic with a tremendous personality who had received a lot of accolades." Moving Brief at 15 (citing Marini Dep. at 100).

c. Wendelken's Application

Wendelken holds a Masters Degree in Administration and Supervision, a Bachelor of Science Degree, and holds State of New Jersey Department of Education Certificates ("Certificates") in Social Studies, English, Language and Arts for grades seven through twelve. Kovacs Cert., Exhibit C (Wendelken Resume). He also holds Certificates for the positions of Principal/Supervisor, Assistant Superintendent for Business and School Business Administrator. Id. When he submitted his application, he had twenty-three years of teaching experience, had held the position of Head Teacher in Charge of Activities since 1992 and was a High School Varsity Basketball Coach since 1988. Id. He was also the President of the Board of Education for the City of Hoboken (the "Hoboken Board") and served on the Hoboken Board's finance and fiscal plan facilities committees. Id.

Marini testified he was impressed with Wendelken, observing Wendelken was involved with extracurricular activities and was a strict disciplinarian. Marini Dep. at 94-95. Wendelken submitted a letter of recommendation from Robert Fazio ("Fazio"), the Principal of the...

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