United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ASHLEY N. THIBAULT Plaintiff,
MOLLY SPINO, individually, and TORRINGTON BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendants.
RULING DENYING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO
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 Plaintiffs 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
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 65, h
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].) Plaintiffs 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
[Plaintiffs] 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
Plaintiffs employer, All-Star, to complain about Plaintiffs
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 Plaintiffs posting on Cook's Facebook
campaign page." (Id. ¶ 17.)
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 driver, has an
obligation to adhere to. We cannot and will not tolerate such
conduct toward any of our students.
(Id.) Following the receipt of this letter, All-Star
terminated Plaintiff from her employment as a school bus
driver. (Am. Compl. ¶ 19.)
now sues Defendants Molly Spino, in her individual capacity,
and the Torrington Board of Education. (Id.
¶¶ 5, 6.) Count One recites a First Amendment
retaliation claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and it
alleges that both "Defendants caused All-Star to
terminate Plaintiffs employment" in response to her
speech "endorsing a political candidate and criticizing
her opponent on a campaign social media site." (Id.
¶¶ 20-23.) Count Two raises a nearly identical
retaliation claim, but it is directed only at Defendant Spino
and makes the additional allegation that Defendant
Spino's acts "were taken with malice and reckless
disregard" for Plaintiffs rights. (Id. ¶
Spino and the Board move to dismiss these
claims. Both Defendants move to dismiss Count One,
for failure to state a claim. Defendant Spino also moves to
dismiss Count Two, on the grounds that she is entitled to