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Ciociola v. Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 27, 2017




         Plaintiff, Francis P. Ciociola, has filed a complaint against defendant, Baltimore City Board of Schools Commissioners, (“BCBSC”), claiming that BCBSC discriminated against him on the basis of his race and age. Ciociola also claims that BCBSC retaliated against him after he participated in a no-confidence vote against Chief Marshall T. Goodwin.

         Pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment on all counts and the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's retaliation claim. (ECF Nos. 69 and 76). For the reasons stated below, BCBSC's motions will be granted and Ciociola's motion will be denied.


         Francis P. Ciociola is a 62-year-old white male who, from August 24, 2004, until his retirement on January 1, 2017, was employed by the defendant, BCBSC, as a school police officer. Ciociola was never disciplined nor was his work ever noted as unsatisfactory during his 13-year tenure with the department.

         Ciociola was on the job on March 23, 2012, when he injured his Achilles tendon. (Defendant's Mot. for Summary Judgment, (“Def.'s Mot.”) Jones Dep., Ex. D, p. 4 ECF No. 76). He was diagnosed by Mercy Medical Hospital, which operates Mercy Medical Center's Public Service Infirmary, (“PSI”), with a right ankle and Achilles tendon injury. (Plaintiff's Mot. for Summary Judgment, (“Pl.'s Mot.”), Ex. 7, ECF No. 69). The visit would be the first of many. Under the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”) between BCBSC and the Fraternal Order of Police Baltimore School Police Lodge No. 5, Inc., (“ the union”), the union to which Ciociola belonged, a work-related injury that was not the result of negligence must be examined by BCBSC's physician. BCBSC has chosen PSI for this work. (Def.'s Mot., Jones Dep., Ex. D, p. 4).

         Ciociola visited PSI often over the next few years. After each visit PSI provided Ciociola with discharge instructions that summarized his visit and ongoing medical treatment and included PSI's opinion on Ciociola's likely recovery. Ciociola was required to provide his discharge instructions to BCBSC after each visit. At his November 30, 2012, visit Ciociola told PSI that he would likely never return to work in any capacity. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. I, p. 1). This statement was turned into a prognosis. The November 30 discharge instructions read: “[i]t is highly unlikely Mr. Ciociola will return to full-duty.” (Id. at p. 2). This line became a permanent fixture on each of Ciociola's discharge instructions until March 11, 2013, when he was cleared for full-duty, though with a condition. (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 40). PSI noted that Ciociola “[m]ust qualify with weapons, pass defensive tactics and emergency driving skills” before returning to work. (Id.).

         During this period, Ciociola also saw a private doctor named Stuart Miller. Dr. Miller was consistently more optimistic about Ciociola's recovery than PSI. He never expressed the same doubtfulness about Ciociola's likely return to the police force, and he always cleared Ciociola for work, in either light or full capacity, sooner than PSI did. Indeed, Dr. Miller cleared the plaintiff for full duty on March 1, 2013. (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 35).

         Sometime in November 2012, Sergeant Clyde E. Boatwright, President of the union, received several complaints alleging, among other things, that the Chief had created a hostile work environment for white officers. (Pl.'s Mot., Boatwright Dep., Ex. 4, pp. 42-44). That same month, Sgt. Boatwright told a meeting of the union that a man named Sergeant Askins reported that “command” did not want Sgt. Boatwright “helping the white boys.” (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 24, p. 2).

         In December 2012 the union staged an anonymous no-confidence vote motivated, in part, by claims of discrimination against white officers. (Def.'s Mot., Boatwright Dep., Ex. EE, pp. 53-54). Ciociola participated, by collecting votes and submitting an anonymous vote himself, (Pl.'s Mot., Ciociola Dep., Ex. 1, pp. 25-26), but he was not a principal leader of the movement and did not help with its planning, (Pl.'s Mot., Boatwright Dep., Ex. 4, pp. 50-52). Chief Goodwin claims not to have known about Ciociola's participation in the vote. (Def.'s Mot., Goodwin Dep., Ex. FF, p. 91). Ciociola does not dispute that claim, yet he still attempts to link his participation in the union movement to the three employment actions he would soon face.

         The first action came in the form of a letter on December 17, 2012. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. A). BCBSC Board Rule 405.03 empowers the department to ask an officer to accept reassignment, disability retirement, or service retirement after that officer has been repeatedly absent or out of work for a prolonged period of time because of an accident. (Id.). If an officer refuses to take any of those three options he may face termination. When BCBSC sent Ciociola a 405.03 letter he had been out of work for almost 10 months and PSI had just noted in its discharge instructions that Ciociola was unlikely ever to return to work. Ciociola never responded to the letter and BCBSC never enforced it. (Def.'s Mot., Jones Dep., Ex. O, pp. 242-43). Ciociola claims, however, that he has not been paid since receiving the letter. (Pl.'s Mot., p. 8).

         The second action also occurred on December 17. It was a payroll change. (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 31). BCBSC may only hire as many officers as there are payroll positions. This rule can cause personnel shortages if, for example, an officer goes out on disability while all of BCBSC's payroll spots are filled. (Def.'s Mot., Jones Dep., Ex. O, pp. 86-89). To avoid firing an officer out on disability but to also maintain an effective law enforcement force, the department sometimes transfers officers to different payroll locations. (Id.). Importantly, such transfers do not affect an employee's employment status. (Id.). Nor do they affect an employee's pay or benefits. (Id.).

         The last action occurred sometime in February 2013, when Ciociola was cleared for light duty by Dr. Miller and PSI. When Ciociola brought the news to Lieutenant Schuch, who was in charge of administrative and personnel issues for BCBSC, seeking reinstatement as an officer, he was told that BCBSC did not want him to return to work until he was cleared for full-duty status. (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1, pp. 76-77).

         PSI cleared Ciociola for full-duty service on March 11, 2013. Ciociola then spoke to Jerome Jones, labor relations manager for BCBSC, to request his job back. He was rebuffed. Jones said that he could not rehire Ciociola because his position had been filled. (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1, pp. 81-83). Ciociola sought help from Sergeant Boatwright. After lobbying on Ciociola's behalf, Sergeant Boatwright was told by Chief Goodwin that Ciociola “is slated to be rehired when the first available School Police Officer position is available.” (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 43., p. 1). Ciociola would just need to attend scheduled trainings to be recertified under Maryland law. (Id.). He never did. Suffering from illness, Ciociola cancelled his scheduled training. (Pl.'s Mot., Ciociola Dep., Ex. 1, pp. 90-91). Neither party tried to reschedule. (Id.).

         Ciociola filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in April 2013. (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 63). The complaint included some of the events described above and alleged race discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) and age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”). Retaliation was not mentioned. The EEOC closed its file on Ciociola's case on March 31, 2015, stating that it “is unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes.” (Def.'s Mot., Ex. CC).

         On January 1, 2017, Ciociola retired from the Baltimore City School Police Force. (Def.'s Mot., Ex. D, p. 6). He had not been at work for nearly five years. He has sued BCBSC claiming the reason he received the 405.03 letter, the reason he was never returned to full duty, and the reason PSI maintained a doubtful outlook on his recovery ...

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