Abelli v. Ansonia Board of Education
In a case alleging that a government employer deprived a worker of a liberty interest without due process of law, a court can permit deposition questions about whether supervisors adequately investigated and prevent questions about supervisors' credibility, criticisms and motivations. Allegedly, the plaintiff worked as a high school culinary arts teacher. In 2012, the superintendent, Carol Merlone, informed the plaintiff, who lacked tenure, that her contract would not be renewed. The plaintiff requested a public hearing, and the board of education conducted a hearing and discharged the plaintiff. The plaintiff sued the board in New Haven Superior Court, alleging that the superintendent suspected her of mishandling school funds, and she was deprived of a liberty interest, without due process of law. The board removed the plaintiff's suit to the U.S. District Court. During discovery, the plaintiff seeks to depose the superintendent and to ask questions about the superintendent's credibility, criticisms and motivations, as well as her supervision of the plaintiff and her basis to claim that the plaintiff allegedly stole funds. The board requested a protective order, to restrict the scope of questions at the superintendent's deposition to whether the board provided the plaintiff with adequate process, immediately prior to and during the public hearing. The board argued, "The substance of the [teacher's] non-renewal notice and the facts and conduct leading to its creation are specifically outside the scope of this stigma plus claim." The board of education, wrote the court, "understates what issues are relevant here, while plaintiff overstates them." The plaintiff is entitled to ask about the process that led to the issuance of the notice that her contract would not be renewed. If the plaintiff proves that the board's investigation was hurried or inadequate, it is more likely that the plaintiff will also prove the board did not provide the plaintiff with adequate process at the public hearing. The court granted in part the board's request for a protective order. The plaintiff's attorney may not ask the superintendent questions concerning the superintendent's credibility, criticisms, motivations, supervision or her basis for claiming that the plaintiff allegedly stole funds.