Roadmap to Retaliation: Court Upholds Jury Finding that School District Retaliated Against Security Guard

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Roadmap to Retaliation: Court Upholds Jury Finding that School District Retaliated Against Security Guard

By Jennifer Vorih, Esq., Ty Hyderally, Esq.

On September 15, 2020, the Appellate Division affirmed a trial court decision that the Randolph Township Board of Education illegally retaliated against its Security Guard, Charles Kazaba Jr., because he filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the Board. The reason that the Court upheld the jury’s findings is clear: the Board, in its treatment of Kazaba after he filed his age discrimination lawsuit, followed a clear roadmap of retaliation.

Kazaba, who is now approximately sixty-seven years old, began working as a security guard for the school district in 1991. In 2012, after Kazaba had served in his position at the High School for over twenty years, Kazaba filed a lawsuit against the Board for age discrimination. While it did not find that the Board had initially discriminated against Kazaba due to his age, the jury found in 2017 that the Board did illegally retaliate against Kazaba for his 2012 lawsuit in a multitude of ways.

Kazaba testified that:

  • June 28, 2012: Kazaba filed his lawsuit.
  • September 6, 2012: within a few days after he returned to work after the summer break, the High School Principal, Debbie Iosso met with him.
  • During that meeting, Iosso told Kazaba three times that she used performance evaluations to decide which employees would be kept and which would be terminated at the end of the school year.
  • Kazaba understandably found this threatening and demoralizing, and informed iosso of this.
  • Iosso replied by asking if Kazaba was questioning her management skills, and asked whether he could perform his job duties.
  • September 10, 2012: Iosso sent Kazaba a letter, outlining his job duties.
  • In her letter, Iosso makes clear that Kazaba was not welcome in the High School building, Iosso offered to keep a football ticket booth outside for Kazaba, in case he “needed some shelter” during “times the weather was inclement.”
  • This ticket booth was approximately two feet by four feet, without light or electricity.
  • September 2012: Iosso took away a duty in which Kazaba took great pride: writing and placing messages on the marquee outside the High School.
  • October 2012: Iosso denied Kazaba’s request to be paid for time he spent appearing in municipal court related to a vehicular incident on school grounds.
  • Kazaba had spent 8 ½ hours attending the proceedings, and had always been paid for previous such appearances.
  • April 2013: Kazaba received a Rice notice, wherein he was informed that the Board would be discussing his employment at an upcoming meeting. Kazaba had never been received a Rice notice.
  • May 3, 2013: Kazaba, who had previously always been allowed to use the school patrol car to travel to and from work, was informed during the day that he could no longer do so. Kazaba, who had driven to work in the school patrol car, walked eight miles to get home that day.
  • May 20, 2013: Kazaba was put on a Corrective Action Plan, for alleged performance deficiencies, about which he had never been informed.
  • May 2013: The Board hired Harry Ruiz in the newly created position of Director of Security.
  • Back to School Night 2013: A presentation shown to all parents listed the school’s security employees, but did not list Kazaba, who had been the sole security guard at the High School from 1991 to 2007.
  • Fall 2013: Ruiz followed Kazaba home in his personal vehicle, drove slowly past the house and sped away.
  • February 2014: Kazaba got a second Rice notice, and again asked that any issues concerning his employment be discussed in public session.
  • David Browne, who was then the Superintendent of Schools, falsely stated that Kazaba had violated his corrective action plan and that numerous letters regarding Kazaba’s job performance had been placed in his file.
  • March 5, 2014: Harry Ruiz asked Kazaba if he was sixty-two years old, and suggested that he “try and cut a deal for early retirement.”
  • March 2014: Kazaba’s shift was changed from the day shift he had worked for twenty-three years, to 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
  • The shift change resulted in Kazaba seeing his wife for only about an hour every day, whereas he had previously been able to make dinner for her every night before she came home from work.
  • No one had ever worked this evening shift before, and when Kazaba took a medical leave, the Board did not assign anyone to cover the shift on a regular basis.
  • March 2014: Ruiz directed Kazaba to monitor the boys’ bathroom at the middle school for five days.
  • The new shift also meant Kazaba no longer had responsibility for several job duties, such as transporting senior citizen volunteers, transporting students to urgent care, organizing fire drills, maintaining information on student vehicles, etc.

While the Board presented testimony and evidence in response to Kazaba’s allegations, the Board’s actions against Kazaba, as described by Kazaba, lay out a clear campaign of retaliation by the Board against Kazaba. Thus, the Appellate Division denied the Board’s appeal of the trial court’s denial of its motion for involuntary dismissal and its motion for judgment at the close of evidence. After carefully reviewing each of the elements of Kazaba’s claim for retaliation under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, the Court held that, “the totality of the circumstances and evidence presented supported a reasonable inference Brown, Iosso, Ruiz, and defendant took adverse actions against plaintiff in retaliation for the filing of his complaint.” 

The Board appeared to have planned and carried out its retaliation against Kazaba very carefully and thoroughly, ensuring that he felt threatened and demoralized, and was unable to enjoy his job, and his life, to the extent he had prior to filing his lawsuit. However, in following its roadmap of retaliation, the Board left very clear signposts for the jury, which rightfully found in favor of Kazaba.

This blog is for informational purposes only.  It does not constitute legal advice, and may not reasonably be relied upon as such.  If you face a legal issue, you should consult a qualified attorney for independent legal advice with regard to your particular set of facts.  This blog may constitute attorney advertising.  This blog is not intended to communicate with anyone in a state or other jurisdiction where such a blog may fail to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that state of jurisdiction.

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