Last month a Superior Court decision reminded us that a “board of education” is not the same thing as a “school district.” This can be a crucial distinction in protecting students, teachers and staff. The ruling will end up costing someone more than embarrassment.
The eighty-two year-old plaintiff in Mulvihill v. Danbury Public Schools meant to sue for age discrimination. Her lawyers drafted the appropriate papers and hired a state marshal to serve them on the defendant. The marshal served the plaintiff’s complaint on the Town Clerk of Danbury in November 2018.
Danbury subsequently appeared in court. It moved to dismiss the complaint. It argued that it had never been properly served. The court (D’Andrea, J.) agreed and dismissed the complaint.
According to the opinion, the marshal served the wrong clerk. To bring a board of education to court a marshal may serve the clerk of the town. That is what the marshal did in this case. To bring a district to court, however, a marshal must serve its “clerk or one of its committees.” The plaintiff argued the two clerks were essentially the same person.
The court disagreed. The Connecticut Supreme Court had clearly held that towns and boards are different bodies.For purposes of education, a town is a “district.” It uses its board of education to control its schools. To sue a district, the legislature instructed litigants to serve the district’s clerk, or one of its committees. To serve a board of education, the legislature had specified the town’s clerk. The court held that service on one was not the same as service on the other.
Curiously, the decision did not say what person the marshal should have served. If the town’s clerk is not the town-as-district’s clerk, who is?
The statute of limitations has run. Unless an appellate court overturns this decision, the plaintiff cannot bring suit against her former employer. The statute, however, has not run on other people she may sue in connection with her claim.