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Thornton v. Potamkin Chevrolet

Decided: July 18, 1983.

THOMAS THORNTON, APPELLANT,
v.
POTAMKIN CHEVROLET AND ROBERT NITABACH, RESPONDENTS



On certification to the Division on Civil Rights.

For reversal -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by O'Hern, J.

O'hern

This appeal requires us to resolve whether a discharged employee who has failed to raise a claim of discrimination in a grievance arbitration may pursue that claim before the State Division on Civil Rights. We hold that the entire controversy doctrine does not preclude the Division on Civil Rights from enforcing the provisions of the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -38, and reverse the judgment below.

I.

In April 1977, Potamkin Chevrolet moved its business from Newark to Morristown. Plaintiff Thornton had been an employee for approximately 16 years. He and other Potamkin employees were represented by Local 259, United Automobile Workers of America. When the union was notified that many Newark employees would not be retained after the move, it commenced negotiations with Potamkin on the effects of the move and possible severance pay. Thornton, one of those scheduled to be laid off, was a member of the union's negotiating

team. The parties negotiated an agreement that would have given Thornton $2,000 severance pay and $1,700 in accrued benefits. Thornton refused to sign a release accepting the award and in May 1977 asserted his right to a job at Potamkin's new Morristown facility. Thornton, who is black, claimed that two white employees were given preference over him.

The union filed a grievance on his behalf, which was submitted to arbitration. The arbitrator held that by negotiating for severance pay and other benefits, Thornton waived any right under the collective bargaining agreement to claim an improper layoff. Thornton's majority representative did not raise the issue of racial discrimination in the arbitration proceedings that preceded the award of August 24, 1977. On May 6, 1977, Thornton filed an administrative complaint with the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, Division on Civil Rights, alleging Potamkin had discriminated against him because of his race. The Division determined that probable cause existed to proceed but refused to prosecute Thornton's claims for reasons unrelated to the discrimination claim. It referred the matter to the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law for disposition as a contested case under N.J.S.A. 52:14F-1 to -11. The Administrative Law Judge ruled that "the single controversy doctrine should be extended to arbitration proceedings" and ordered dismissal of the complaint. The agency adopted her ruling. The Division noted Thornton raised no exceptions to the Initial Decision of the Administrative Law Judge.

Thornton appealed to the Appellate Division. Because of the similarity of issues in Teaneck Bd. of Educ. v. Teaneck Teachers Ass'n, 94 N.J. 9 (1983), also decided today, we certified the cause directly on our own motion. 91 N.J. 569 (1983).

II.

In Aetna Ins. Co. v. Gilchrist Bros., Inc., 85 N.J. 550 (1981), this Court extensively reviewed the development of the entire controversy doctrine as it had evolved from the creation of the single court of statewide jurisdiction, empowered to grant

legal and equitable relief "so that all matters in controversy between the parties may be completely determined." N.J. Const. (1947), Art. VI, ยง III, par. 4. The doctrine is one of "firm judicial policy which seeks to impel litigants to consolidate their claims arising from a 'single controversy' whenever possible." Alfone v. Sarno, 87 N.J. 99, 113 (1981). The essence of that policy is the joinder of claims and not parties. Aetna, 85 N.J. at 558. See ...


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