A federal district court judge has ruled against one aspect of a suit brought against the Verona Board of Education by Lou Racioppe, the former Verona High School football coach. The ruling is not, however, likely to end the suit, which could potentially be refiled at the federal or state level.
On August 29, Judge John Michael Vazquez issued an opinion that there was not a federal civil rights issue in Racioppe’s complaint against the BOE. Racioppe, who was represented by Greg Mascera of Bannon, Rawding, McDonald & Mascera in Verona, had asserted that the BOE had violated his due process rights in its investigation of complaints brought against him and assistant football coaches in the fall of 2017.
Vasquez wrote that Racioppe “appears to plead that his due process rights stem from the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act…”. The judge disagreed with that, writing that “the Court does not construe the Anti-Bullying Act as creating heightened due process requirements under the Fourteenth Amendment.”
Racioppe’s legal argument had also asserted that his reputation had been damaged by the BOE’s actions. But the judge ruled that “reputation alone is not an interest protected by the Due Process Clause.” The BOE put the former coach on leave while it carried out its investigation and did not not reinstate him before the end of the 2017 football season. Racioppe could have re-applied for the head coaching position in 2018, but the judge’s decision says that he chose not to.
The ruling will likely not be the end of the litigation. The judge’s opinion said that Racioppe could file an amended complaint with the federal court, or it would send the matter to New Jersey state court. The former coach has 30 days from August 29 to make a decision. His lawyer, Mascera, declined to comment on the case.
Verona’s superintendent, Dr. Rui Dionisio, also declined to comment. He is named in the suit along with the BOE and former BOE members John Quattrocchi and Michele Bernardino.