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Casseus v. Elizabeth General Medical Center

February 16, 1996


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County.

Approved for Publication February 16, 1996.

Before Judges Michels and Villanueva. The opinion of the court was delivered by VILLANUEVA, J.A.D.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: VILLANUEVA

The opinion of the court was delivered by VILLANUEVA, J.A.D.

Plaintiff Edouard J. Casseus appeals from a final judgment of the Law Division entered following a bench trial that dismissed his damage claim based on employment discrimination against defendant Elizabeth General Medical Center. We affirm.

In March 1992, plaintiff filed a charge of discrimination with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights and the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), claiming that defendant had discriminated against him in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 2000e to e-17. The EEOC determined that "there is no reasonable cause to believe that there has been a violation of the statute(s) under which the charge has been filed."

On June 16, 1993, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Superior Court, Law Division, alleging that he had been subjected to unlawful discrimination in violation of Title VII and the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42. Defendant denied any discriminatory conduct. The case was tried before the Judge A. Donald McKenzie, sitting without a jury. The following evidence was presented by the parties.

Plaintiff is a black Haitian male who has lived in the United States for twenty-five years and is now a citizen. He was educated in this country and graduated from Rutgers University in 1979. In 1973, plaintiff began working for defendant's predecessor, Alexian Brothers' Hospital, as a sanitation aide. His duties primarily entailed physical labor, e.g., working in the stockroom and cleaning. Plaintiff held this position until February 1990 at which time defendant took over the hospital.

Defendant's vice-president for human resources, Robert Mazur, testified that, as part of the takeover, defendant had agreed to hire all Alexian Brothers' employees, although he admitted that the employees were required to go through a "cursory" interview process. Mazur interviewed plaintiff and hired him as a dietary aide. Although plaintiff's job title changed, his duties remained more or less the same.

In November 1991, plaintiff was promoted to the newly-created position of "sanitation supervisor." *fn1 It was explained that he was to be a "working supervisor," which meant that in addition to performing supervisory duties, he would be required to do "hands-on type work." In plaintiff's view, although his rate of pay increased from $8.59 per hour to $9.20 per hour, he was performing exactly the same job that he had been performing before being promoted because defendant failed to fill plaintiff's vacated dietary aide position. Plaintiff conceded, however, that his new job required him "to observe the sanitation of the various employees in the kitchen" and to discipline kitchen employees when their work resulted in health hazards. Furthermore, according to Mazur's testimony, plaintiff had responsibility to "direct" the people who mopped the floors and cleaned the food preparation areas.

At a January 9, 1992, meeting, defendant's director of food services, Martin Cohen, explained to plaintiff that he was not adequately performing the job of supervisor. At that time Cohen completed an evaluation of plaintiff in which he recommended that plaintiff be returned to his former position. Defendant ultimately decided to demote plaintiff effective February 28, 1992.

On February 17, 1992, after being shown the evaluation of his work performance, plaintiff resigned. Plaintiff was informed at that time that his promotion had been subject to a ninety-day probationary period, and during that ninety-day period it had been determined that he lacked the requisite supervisory skills. Plaintiff disputed that there was a probationary period and claimed that defendant was being "prejudicial" in imposing one upon him. Mazur testified that it was defendant's practice to subject all newly promoted management employees to the ninety-day probation period. He testified further that "it was very clear from the start that [plaintiff's] interpretation, understanding of the job of Sanitation supervisor was distinctly different from the reality of the job as we had . . . intended and laid out for him." The position of sanitation supervisor was later filled by a white male.

Although it was defendant's normal practice to terminate an employee who had been promoted to a supervisory position and later proved unsatisfactory in that position, since plaintiff had done a good job in his prior position, defendant assigned plaintiff to his former job of dietary aide, albeit in the West Wing of the hospital instead of the East Wing where plaintiff had been working.

Plaintiff reconsidered his decision to resign, and in a meeting with Cohen stated that he would like to continue working as a dietary aide, but only if he could be transferred back to the East Wing because in the East Wing he would be working hours which would enable him to keep his part-time position at another hospital. Cohen rejected this request on the ground that putting plaintiff in the West Wing would save him the "embarrassment" of being demoted to the ranks of the employees whom he formerly had supervised in the East Wing. Additionally, as Mazur testified, defendant was in the process of ...

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