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Buccilli v. Timby

July 20, 1995


On appeal from the Superior County of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County.

Approved for Publication July 20, 1995.

Before Judges Havey, Brochin and Cuff. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brochin, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brochin


Defendant Timby, Brown & Timby is a law firm with offices in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff Christine Buccilli, who is a resident of New Jersey, was employed by the defendant as a paralegal in its Philadelphia office. Defendant terminated her employment, and plaintiff filed this action in the New Jersey Superior Court, alleging that her dismissal entitles her to damages.

Plaintiff's first amended complaint consisted of three counts. The first count alleged that defendant fired her because she told her employer that she intended to file a workers' compensation claim, because she protested sexual harassment and a sexually hostile work environment, and because she objected to having to sign attorneys' names to pleadings and other court documents and to a lack of attorneys' supervision of her work as a paralegal. The second count of plaintiff's complaint alleged that her discharge breached a covenant of good faith and fair dealing which she contended was implied in her contract of employment. The third count referred to all of the previous counts of the complaint and alleged that the conduct complained of violated her rights "as protected by the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq."

Defendant moved for the entry of summary judgment dismissing each of these counts. Its motion was granted by an order dated August 21, 1992 which recited only that each of the counts of plaintiff's first amended complaint was dismissed with prejudice. Another order entered at the same time permitted plaintiff to file a second amended complaint alleging sexual harassment and interference with prospective economic advantage. The motion Judge's rulings underlying these orders were that Pennsylvania law, not New Jersey law, was controlling; that her discharge was not a breach of a covenant of good faith and fair dealing because she was admittedly an employee at will and there was therefore no applicable restriction on defendant's right to terminate her employment; and that Pennsylvania law does not recognize a cause of action for damages to redress an employee's discharge from employment in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim or for objecting to the law firm's work practices.

Plaintiff then filed a two-count, second amended complaint which alleged sexual discrimination and tortious interference with her subsequent employment. Defendant renewed its motion for summary judgment. The sexual discrimination claim was dismissed on the ground that it could be decided only in a Pennsylvania court. Dismissal of the claim for tortious interference was denied in order to afford plaintiff a further opportunity for discovery. When discovery had been completed, that claim was also dismissed.

On appeal, plaintiff challenges only the dismissal of her claims that she was subjected to sexual discrimination and that she was fired because she expressed her intention to file a workers' compensation claim and because she objected to work practices of the firm's attorneys which she alleges violated the Rules of Professional Conduct binding on defendant as a firm of attorneys.

Plaintiff's employment began and ended in Pennsylvania. She worked exclusively in that state and the conduct which she alleges was unlawful occurred there. Only Pennsylvania, not New Jersey, substantive law governs her claims. See D'Agostino v. Johnson & Johnson, Inc. (D'Agostino II), 133 N.J. 516, 538-39, 628 A.2d 305 (1993) (New Jersey law regulates conduct in New Jersey, not outside the state); Eger v. E.I. Dupont DeNemours Co., 110 N.J. 133, 539 A.2d 1213 (1988) (South Carolina law determined whether a general contractor that operated a facility in South Carolina was immune from tort liability to a New Jersey resident who was injured while performing work in South Carolina for a New Jersey subcontractor).

Shamley v. I.T.T. Corp., 869 F.2d 167 (2nd Cir. 1989), offers a persuasive rationale for our holding that the damage claim of a New Jersey resident for her allegedly wrongful dismissal from out-of-state employment is governed by the law of the state in which she was employed. The plaintiff in Shamley was a New Jersey resident whom defendant had employed as a cost accountant in its New York office during his entire career. He claimed that his dismissal from his employment was the result of discrimination against him because of his age, religion and national origin. In dismissing the plaintiff's state law claims for wrongful discharge, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, the United States District Court ruled that those claims were governed by New York rather than New Jersey law. Distinguishing cases such as Schum v. Bailey, 578 F.2d 493 (3rd Cir. 1978) (New Jersey law governs suit against a physician who practiced in both New York and New Jersey to recover for medical malpractice that occurred in New York, injuring plaintiff who was a New Jersey resident), upon which plaintiff relies in the present suit, the Court of Appeals explained that such cases

are all distinguishable in the sense that while the plaintiffs in each case left New Jersey temporarily on a trip, Shamley left New Jersey every work day for 14 years, forging a lasting link between himself and the State of New York. Moreover, New York has an unusually strong interest in applying its own law to employment contracts involving work in New York state. Because workers who reside in several states work side-by-side in New York state, New York has a very practical reason for maintaining a uniform approach to employer/employee relations. New Jersey's Appellate Division recognized this when it held against Shamley on these same claims, saying that New York law governed because I.T.T.'s relationship with its employees in its New York office should not be subject to different legal principles depending on the state of the employee's domicile. *fn1

Shamley v. I.T.T. Corp., supra, at 172. We agree with Shamley that making the rights of each of several co-workers dependent on his or her state of residence would be an entirely unreasonable result.

Under Pennsylvania law, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. ยง 962 (Purdon 1991), provides the exclusive remedy for wrongful termination based on discrimination. Clay v. Advanced Computer Applications Inc., 522 Pa. 86, 559 A.2d 917, 918 (Pa. 1989); Jacques v. Akzo Intern. Salt, Inc., 422 Pa. Super. 419, 619 A.2d 748, 753 (Pa. Super. 1993). That Act requires a claimant to exhaust her administrative remedies before seeking a judicial remedy for illegal ...

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