United States District Court, D. Connecticut
Ashley N. THIBAULT, Plaintiff,
Molly SPINO, Individually, and Torrington Board of Education, Defendants.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
E. Kelly, Thomas W. Meiklejohn, Livingston, Adler, Pulda,
Meiklejohn & Kelly, Hartford, CT, for Plaintiff.
Danielle Van Katwyk, Attorney to be Noticed, Denver, CO,
Johanna G. Zelman, Michel Bayonne, Jenna M Goldman, Ford
Harrison, LLP, Hartford, CT, for Defendants.
DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
Bond Arterton, U.S.D.J.
§ 1983 action, Plaintiff Ashleigh Thibault claims that
her First Amendment rights were violated when she was fired
from her position as a contract public school bus driver
after engaging in political speech on Facebook. The firing
occurred after Ms. Thibault criticized Defendant Molly Spino,
a member of the Torrington Board of Education
("Board"), who was running for a seat as a state
legislator. Ms. Thibault's Facebook post criticized Ms.
Spino's performance as a mother, described Ms.
Spino's children as bullies, and endorsed Ms. Spino's
Molly Spino and the Torrington Board of Education now move
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss Count One, which
alleges a First Amendment retaliation claim. Defendants
contend that Plaintiff's speech did not address a matter
of public concern, and so was not protected. Defendant Spino
also moves to dismiss Count Two—a similar retaliation
claim to which she is the only defendant— on the basis
of qualified immunity.
reasons discussed below, Defendants' Motion [Doc. # 27]
Ashleigh Thibault is a resident of Torrington, Connecticut.
(Am. Compl. [Doc. # 26] ¶¶ 4, 10.) During the time
period relevant to this action, Plaintiff Thibault was
employed as a school bus driver for All-Star Transportation,
Inc. ("All-Star"). (Id. ¶¶ 7,
9.) All-Star maintained a contract with the Defendant
Torrington Board of Education to provide transportation to
children enrolled in the Torrington Public Schools system
from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2018. (Id.
¶¶ 7, 8.) That contract stated that the "Board
reserves the right... to require the immediate termination of
any of [All-Star's] employees at any time for due and
sufficient cause," (id. ¶ 8), which
includes the "[v]iolation of standards of conduct
towards the public, staff, students, or other employees of
the board," (Ex. A (All-Star Contract) to Defs.'
Mot. [Doc. # 27-2] at 9).
Molly Spino is a member of the Torrington Board of Education.
(Am. Compl. ¶ 5.) In 2018, she ran for the
Connecticut General Assembly seat in the 65th Assembly
District, where Plaintiff is registered to vote.
(Id. ¶¶ 10, 11.) Defendant Spino's
opponent was incumbent Michelle Cook. (Id. ¶
25, 2018, Plaintiff posted a public message on the
"Michelle Cook For State Representative" Facebook
page, endorsing Ms. Cook and criticizing Defendant Spino.
(Id. ¶ 13; see also Ex. E (Facebook
Post) to Defs.' Mot. [Doc. # 27-6].) Plaintiff's
Facebook Post "followed another post that was critical
of Defendant [Molly] Spino's performance as a member of
Defendant Board," and it read as follows:
Unfortunately, Molly will never take the blame of things ...
much like her children! I have bit my tongue for quite
sometime now ... but with this all being said and done.
Politics in this town are absolutely disgusting. My child was
singled out, bullied, talked down to ... BY HER CHILDREN. She
should focus on getting her mess under control ... Before
worrying about anything else! You have done a wonderful job
thus far Michelle.
(Am. Compl. ¶ 15 (ellipses in original).) Ms. Cook
responded that she was "sorry [Plaintiff] and
[Plaintiff's] family have had this happen" and that
she was "willing to help in any way [she] can."
(Facebook Post at 1.) Ms. Cook also "ask[ed] that this
being taken to a private message as [she]'d rather not
discuss something this personal in the open—especially
with children involved." (Id.)
about June 26, 2018, Defendant Spino "telephoned
Plaintiff's employer, All-Star, to complain about
Plaintiff's posting on Cook's Facebook campaign
page." (Am. Compl. ¶ 16.) That same day, Defendant
Spino and an attorney "met with representatives of
All-Star to complain about Plaintiff's posting on
Cook's Facebook campaign page." (Id. ¶
next day, the Board sent a letter to All-Star. (Ex. F
(Termination Letter) to Defs.' Mot. [Doc. # 27-7].) The
June 27, 2018 letter "invoke[d] the District's right
to require the immediate termination of Ms. Ashleigh Nicole
Thibault from all Torrington assignments for `due and
Under the terms of that agreement, due and sufficient cause
is defined, in part, as "violations of standard of
conduct towards the public, staff, students or other
employees of the Board." On or about June 25, 2018, Ms.
Thibault posted a comment on social media that referenced
Torrington students in an unprofessional and unacceptable
manner. Such conduct violated state and federal laws
regarding student confidentiality that she, as an agent of
the BOE in her capacity as a school bus ...