Rondiene E. Novitz Won in Second Circuit Court of Appeals

Rondiene E. Novitz convinced the Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently to reverse the decision of Federal Judge William G. Young sitting by designation in the Southern District of New York which denied that branch of the motion for Summary Judgment filed on behalf of defendant, which sought dismissal of the plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claims.

In the underlying suit, plaintiff, a former payroll clerk for the Katonah-Lewisboro UFSD, was responsible for processing the district’s payroll, ensuring pay rates were correct, and reporting any irregularities to her supervisors. She sought damages against the district, the district’s board of education and several members of the district’s administrative staff, including the former superintendent, alleging she was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights by reporting to her supervisors what she perceived to be several acts of financial malfeasance. The defendants contended the plaintiff was terminated because she falsified her job application. Upon completion of discovery, the plaintiff voluntarily discontinued her claims against all defendants except the former superintendent.

The District Court granted defendant’s Summary Judgment motion as to all claims except for the First Amendment retaliation claim. Defendant appealed to the Second Circuit. On September 10, 2012, the Second Circuit issued its decision reversing the lower court and dismissing the plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim as a matter of law. The Court held when the plaintiff reported the perceived financial malfeasance, she was speaking pursuant to her official duties and not as a private citizen on a matter of public concern. Consequently, her speech was not protected by the First Amendment and the Interlocutory Appeal was granted.