On February 3, 2009, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided the case of LaPosta v. Borough of Roseland. In the case, plaintiff, Joseph LaPosta, a police officer, alleges Defendants, the Borough of Roseland and its Police Chief, retaliated against him after he attempted to join a police organization of which the Police Chief did not approve. Plaintiff’s claims were brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 and state tort law. 

Plaintiff was employed as a police officer with the Borough of Roseland. After completing his police academy training, Plaintiff was forced to join the Fraternal Order of Police (“FOP”) union. When Plaintiff expressed an interest in joining an alternative union, the Policemen’s Benevolent Association (“PBA”), the Police Chief advised Plaintiff that neither he nor any other officers were to have any influence from the PBA. Nevertheless, Plaintiff joined the PBA. Thereafter, the Police Chief allegedly retaliated against Plaintiff, specifically by subjecting Plaintiff to smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and scented candles, charging him with insubordination, denying him an earned stipend, belittling him in front of other officers, filing frivolous internal affairs claims against him, and denying him the opportunity to attend career-advancing classes and seminars.

Plaintiff’s complaint asserted six claims: (1) violation of 42 U.S.C. §1983; (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress against the Police Chief; (3) hostile work environment; (4) negligence; (5) intentional interference with prospective economic advantage against the Police Chief; and (6) conspiracy. Both the Borough and Police Chief filed motions to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Thereafter, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey entered an opinion and order granting the motions. This appeal followed.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s ruling in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case for further consideration. Specifically, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of all but one of Plaintiff’s claims for failing to file a notice of claim under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. However, the Third Circuit determined the District Court erred in dismissing Plaintiff’s §1983 claim. The Third Circuit held the retaliation claim was not barred by the statute of limitations and should be remanded to the District Court to be adequately analyzed as a claim based on freedom of association.

This case illustrates the importance of obtaining an experienced, qualified attorney prior to initiating an action similar to the one recounted above. There are many procedural hurdles one must follow, to include filing certain notices, to perfect the filing of such a claim. Consequently, it is imperative one obtains a qualified, experienced attorney to ensure their rights are protected. Moreover, this case shows that viable retaliation claims can be pursued against public employers. With the right set of facts, many courts are willing to explore such a claim and, potentially, hold the employer liable for infringing on one’s right to join a certain collective bargaining unit.