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New Jersey school custodian fired for taking box of Christmas candy sues district again

Peter Marro said he thought the wrapped boxes he saw in the school maintenance room were "a year-end thank you" gift from the staff.

A former custodian at a middle school in New Jersey has filed a second lawsuit against the school district alleging emotional distress, workplace harassment and defamation of character after he says he was fired for mistakenly taking a gift-wrapped box of candy.

The custodian, Peter Marro, alleges in the lawsuit filed in Hunterdon County Superior Court in December against Readington Township Public Schools that he was fired in December 2017 over a "misunderstanding." His first filing was dismissed in April because he missed the deadline to file a Tort claim, according to court records.

Marro, who is representing himself, said he thought wrapped boxes of Christmas candy he saw in the maintenance room at Readington Middle School on Dec. 19, 2017, were "a year-end thank you" to the crew from the staff.

Peter Marro.Courtesy Peter Marro

"I chose one and put it in my car," he said in the lawsuit. "I was happy to be thought of by the staff."

Marro said about 20 minutes later, while he was working in the cafeteria, he was called into the main office for a meeting with the principal, vice principal, maintenance supervisor and two police officers, according to the lawsuit. He said they asked him if he took one of the gifts and he told them, "Yes."

They then said he intentionally stole the box of Christmas candy worth $20, he claimed in the lawsuit.

Marro said he told them it was a mistake, but they did not believe him and he was informed that he was caught on camera putting the gift in his car. He said he told the group he had keys to every area of the school and had never stolen anything before.

"I stated that while doing my job as custodian for the school, I had found laptops, jewelry, cellphones and other items of value and promptly brought them to the office," he stated in the lawsuit. He said he also told the group he would not risk his job over a box of candy. Marro was employed with a salary of $35,220, according to state records.

The vice principal then told Marro he was fired and demanded he turn over his badge and keys, according to the lawsuit.

"It was a really nasty thing to do right before the holidays," Marro, 58, said in an interview Tuesday. "They just had it out for me."

Marro said he was escorted through the school by the two officers, who allowed him to gather some of his belongings from a storage closet and then walked him to his car. He said he returned the box of candy to the officers, who then handcuffed him, put him in the back of a police car and drove him to police headquarters where he was fingerprinted and booked, according to the lawsuit.

Readington Township Public Schools did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Court records indicate Marro was charged on Dec. 19, 2017, with theft by unlawful taking of movable property valued less than $200. It was dismissed on Feb. 22, 2018, after prosecutors dropped the charge.

Marro said because it was a high visibility job, many people know who he is in the small community of Flemington, where he lives. He said in the lawsuit that he had hoped people would forget about the incident, but that is not the case.

"Every time I apply for a new job, the arrest overshadows all my relevant experience," Marro said in the lawsuit. "The arrest interferes with all aspects of my life, personal and professional."

Marro is seeking unspecified general, punitive and aggravated damages, including for past, present and future lost wages.