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Bethlehem Area School District and former superintendent try again to get federal lawsuit dismissed

Brittany Sweeney

  • Bethlehem Area School District and retired school Superintendent Joe Roy are asking again for a federal lawsuit to be dismissed
  • The district judge allowed an amended complaint to be filed last month
  • The lawsuit is about a physical altercation at a high school football game last October

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - The Bethlehem Area School District and former Superintendent Joseph Roy are again asking for a federal lawsuit against them to be dismissed for good.
The U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed a complaint last month filed by Liberty High School Assistant Principal Antonio Traca, ruling there were no civil rights violations.

Traca filed a civil rights lawsuit in April claiming Roy punched him in the chest and cursed at him during an Easton-Liberty high school football game on Oct. 14, 2022, as Traca tried to break up a fight among students.

In aJuly court hearing, the district’s lawyer, John Freund, described Roy as shoving or pushing Traca.

District Judge Edward Smith dismissed the initial complaint by Traca in mid-August, but he allowed Traca’s legal team to file an amended complaint before Aug. 30. Smith permanently dismissed an argument by Traca that district policy created an environment that led to Traca’s constitutional rights being violated, known as a Monell claim.

The amended complaint echoes many of the arguments made in the original complaint. Traca’s lawyers continue to argue that Roy’s touching him constituted a seizure of his person, which violated his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights.

They also pointed to the school board's role, including the hiring of retired Judge Emil Giordano to do an independent investigation of the incident. The board approved paying him $495 an hour, for a total of about $12,000 in taxpayer funding by the time Giordano finished. The findings, delivered in February, were kept secret from the public.

The revised filing argues Roy acted intentionally and it was for the “sole and exclusive purpose of exercising dominion and control over assistant principal Traca’s person and to deprive him of the independent action.”

The amended complaint removed an alleged quote from Roy to Traca from the initial complaint where he said Roy cursed at the assistant principal and accused him of not doing his job. Traca’s lead attorney George Kounoupis said it was removed because it was not relevant, and not because Traca retracted it.

The motion to dismiss the amended complaint argues the amended complaint makes many of the same arguments as the original one, which the judge already threw out. The school district and Roy dispute that the retired superintendent reasonably foresaw that the “brief touching” of Traca would violate his civil rights or that Roy intentionally planned to restrain him in a way to cause a seizure.

As in the school district’s previous motion to dismiss, the school district and Roy assert that Roy has qualified immunity.
Bethlehem Area School District and retired school Superintendent Joe Roy asking again for a federal lawsuit to be dismissed

The motion also asks the judge not to grant punitive damages, saying the plaintiff failed to show Roy acted with the required evil intent, recklessness or callous indifference.

Freund said in July’s court hearing Roy may have displayed “overzealousness or thoughtlessness, but certainly not malicious or sadistic [actions].”

Kounoupis has said previously that they would consider appealing to the Third Circuit if their case at the district level was dismissed. Traca could also sue Roy in state court for damages related to a tort claim for injuries.

Roy, who led Bethlehem schools for 13 years, retired in July. Current BASD Superintendent Jack Silva recently released new rules for high school football games.