Id. at 74. "Viewing the matter most favorably to [the plaintiff], the controversy at Ortho involved a difference in medical opinions." Id. at 75. The court held summary judgment in favor of the defendant was proper. Id. at 75-76.
The Plaintiffs in this case have not identified any public policy violated by the Defendants' decision to carry out the RIF. To the extent the Plaintiffs allege a Pierce claim grounded on a public policy supporting the doctrine of equitable estoppel, such a claim is not cognizable under New Jersey case law. DeVries v. McNeil Consumer Prods. Co., 250 N.J.Super. 159, 172-73, 593 A.2d 819 (App.Div. 1991).
Although the Plaintiffs contend in count one that they were terminated because of age or race, they have offered nothing beyond the allegation contained in the Complaint. The submissions offer no explanation or affidavits in support of this argument. See Geraci v. Moody-Tottrup, Int'l, Inc., 82 F.3d 578, 580 (3d Cir. 1996) (reviewing settled Federal standard for demonstrating indirect evidence of unlawful discrimination); Orson, 79 F.3d at 1366 (indicating that once movant shows absence of genuine issue for trial, nonmovant may not rest upon mere allegations in pleadings) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323).
In the caption to the first count of the Complaint, Plaintiffs allege a cause of action grounded on promissory estoppel. Promissory estoppel is a cause of action related to breach of contract. The purpose of such a claim is to compensate a party who has reasonably relied on the promise of another, although all the elements of a breach-of-contract claim, such as mutual consideration, cannot be established. Leonardis v. Burns Int'l Sec. Svcs., Inc., 808 F. Supp. 1165, 1182 (D.N.J. 1992). The elements of promissory estoppel are (1) a clear and definite promise by the promisor; (2) the promise must be made with the expectation that it will induce reliance by the promisee; (3) the promisee must reasonably rely upon the promise; and (4) the promisee must experience detriment of a definite and substantial nature by relying on the promise. R.J. Longo Constr. Co. v. Transit Am., Inc., 921 F. Supp. 1295, 1305 (D.N.J. 1996) (citing Royal Assocs. v. Concannon, 200 N.J. Super. 84, 91-92, 490 A.2d 357 (App.Div. 1985)); Fairken Assocs. v. Hutchin, 223 N.J. Super. 274, 279-80, 538 A.2d 465 (L.Div. 1987). The facts do not establish a clear and definite promise by Defendants to the Plaintiffs. As well, the facts indicate the Plaintiffs were all aware that their positions were to be eliminated following CRIS Standardization and, although they were told efforts were being made to relocate them, they were encouraged to pursue positions on their own. See, e.g., Cleary Dep. at 30-31 ("I basically told them that they really needed to work very closely with their managers to make sure that they had their skills inventory, data base updated, to let people know what their desires were. I always reminded them that they were responsible for their own career."). Further, the Plaintiffs have not established reliance. The facts indicate Plaintiffs were aware that their positions would be eliminated following CRIS Standardization and actively pursued other openings through the STAR system. Accordingly, plaintiffs have failed to establish any genuine issue of material fact as to their promissory estoppel claim. As well, the Plaintiffs have not established a genuine issue of material fact as to the equitable estoppel claim. See Quigley, Inc. v. Miller Family Farms, 266 N.J. Super. 283, 296, 629 A.2d 110 (App.Div. 1993) (indicating elements of equitable estoppel are a misrepresentation of material fact, reasonable and justifiable reliance and resulting damages); Klein v. State Dep't of Transp., 264 N.J. Super. 285, 290, 624 A.2d 618 (App.Div.) (same), cert. denied, 134 N.J. 481, 634 A.2d 528 (1993). Summary judgment is granted on the first count of the Complaint with respect to all Defendants.
The second count of the Complaint names all Defendants. Plaintiffs allege Defendants knowingly and intentionally made false and misleading statements to induce them to remain at their positions with CRIS-New Jersey. Complaint, PP 41-45. All Defendants seek summary judgment on this count. Plaintiffs must demonstrate that (1) the Defendants made a misrepresentation of material fact; (2) the misrepresentation was made with knowledge of its falsity; and (3) Plaintiffs justifiably relied on the misrepresentation to their detriment. Lightning Lube, Inc. v. Witco Corp., 4 F.3d 1153, 1182 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing Jewish Ctr. of Sussex County v. Whale, 86 N.J. 619, 624-25, 432 A.2d 521 (1981)); Rodio v. Smith, 123 N.J. 345, 352, 587 A.2d 621 (1991); Nappe v. Anschelewitz, Barr, Ansell & Bonello, 97 N.J. 37, 51-52, 477 A.2d 1224 (1984).
In this case, the facts establish Defendants clearly indicated to Plaintiffs that their positions would be eliminated following CRIS Standardization. The facts establish an intent by the Defendants to find other work for the Plaintiffs, and, of the seventy-seven individuals whose jobs were eliminated in connection with CRIS-New Jersey, Defendants relocated all but eighteen. Defendants' Rule 12G Statement at 17 (citing Reilly Aff., Ex. L). On these facts, there is no evidence Defendants made false representations with knowledge of their falsity. Their actions demonstrate the Defendants were sincere in attempting to relocate the individuals whose jobs were eliminated. As well, Plaintiffs were apprised of the material facts surrounding their employment and the subsequent RIF.
As discussed, the Plaintiffs have also failed to provide evidence of reliance. The facts in the instant matter provide a useful contrast to Shebar v. Sanyo Bus. Sys. Corp., 111 N.J. 276, 544 A.2d 377 (1988), in which the Supreme Court of New Jersey indicated there was a genuine issue of material fact whether the plaintiff established the elements of fraud. Id. at 292.
In Shebar, the plaintiff was concerned with his employer's practice of promoting primarily Japanese nationals to senior management and he decided to approach an executive search firm. He received an interview at Sony, a firm whose upper level management contained many American nationals. Sony offered him a position as a national sales manager and gave him express assurances that he would be made a vice president. 111 N.J. at 281. The plaintiff accepted the position with Sony and tendered his resignation to his employer. His employer refused to accept his resignation, destroying it while telling the Plaintiff he was guaranteed a job for the rest of his life. Id. at 282. When the Plaintiff indicated to the executive search firm that he revoked his acceptance at Sony, he was told his current employer had actually been busy attempting to replace him during the time his resignation was refused. Four months later, the Plaintiff was summarily fired. Id. at 282-83. The court held there was a genuine issue of material fact whether the Plaintiff had established fraud. Id. at 292.
On the facts in the instant matter, summary judgment is appropriate on the Plaintiffs' fraud claim with respect to all Defendants.
D. Conspiracy to Violate Civil Rights of Plaintiffs
The third count of the Complaint names all of the Defendants, alleging they conspired to violate the civil rights of the Plaintiffs, in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985(3) and 1986. Plaintiffs allege Defendants intentionally or recklessly violated their right not to be discriminated on the basis of race. Complaint, PP 46-51. Defendants seek summary judgment with respect to Szygenda, Gamba and Smith on this count.
The Plaintiffs' submissions do not address these allegations. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) ("Section 1985(3)"), Plaintiffs must allege a conspiracy motivated by a discriminatory animus for the purpose of depriving a person or class of persons of the equal protection of the law. Plaintiffs must also allege an act in furtherance of the conspiracy whereby a person is injured. Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263, 268, 122 L. Ed. 2d 34, 113 S. Ct. 753 (1993) (rejecting claim that blockades of abortion clinics were Section 1985(3) conspiracies to violate Constitutional rights of women); United Bhd. of Carpenters & Joiners, Local 610 v. Scott, 463 U.S. 825, 828-30, 77 L. Ed. 2d 1049, 103 S. Ct. 3352 (1983) (rejecting application of Section 1985(3) to conspiracies against employees of non-union entity); Hobson v. Wilson, 237 U.S. App. D.C. 219, 737 F.2d 1, 14 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (noting that four elements must be proved in a Section 1985(3) claim: (1) a conspiracy; (2) for the purpose of depriving any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws or equal privileges and immunities under the laws; (3) an act in furtherance of the conspiracy; (4) whereby a person is either injured in his person or property or deprived of any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States), cert. denied, 470 U.S. 1084, 85 L. Ed. 2d 142, 105 S. Ct. 1843 (1985); see also Burt v. Ferrese, 871 F.2d 14, 17 (3d Cir. 1989) (observing Section 1985(3) claim must demonstrate "invidious discriminatory animus") (citing Scott, 463 U.S. at 834-39).
The requirement that the conspiracy be motivated by class-based animus was added by the Supreme Court in Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 101-02, 29 L. Ed. 2d 338, 91 S. Ct. 1790 (1971). The Griffin Court held that to give "full effect" to the Congressional purpose of Section 1985(3), and to avoid construing Section 1985(3) as merely "a general Federal tort law,.... there must be some racial, or perhaps otherwise class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus behind the conspirators' action. The conspiracy, in other words, must aim at a deprivation of the equal enjoyment of rights secured by the law to all." Id. at 102 (footnotes omitted). Accordingly, Section 1985(3) "does not apply to all conspiratorial tortious interference with the rights of others, but only to those motivated by some class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus." Hobson, 737 F.2d at 14 (emphasis in original); see also Burt, 871 F.2d at 17.
In the instant matter, Plaintiffs have set out no facts in support of their Section 1985(3) claim. There are no affidavits to indicate the RIF was prompted by discriminatory animus. Summary judgment is granted on this count with respect to Szygenda, Gamba and Smith because Plaintiffs have provided nothing more than conclusory allegations to support this claim.
See Orson, 79 F.3d at 1366; Maguire v. Hughes Aircraft Corp., 912 F.2d 67, 72 (3d Cir. 1990).
E. Tortious Interference With Contract
Plaintiffs allege Defendants engaged in tortious interference with employment contracts between BANS and Plaintiffs. Complaint, PP 52-57. All Defendants seek summary judgment with respect to this count.
Under New Jersey law, the elements of a claim of tortious interference with contract are (1) a plaintiff's existing or reasonable expectation of economic advantage or benefit; (2) a defendant's knowledge of the plaintiff's expectancy; (3) wrongful and intentional interference with that expectancy by the defendant; (4) a reasonable probability that the plaintiff would have received the anticipated economic advantage absent such interference; and (5) damages resulting from the defendant's interference. Lightning Lube, 4 F.3d at 1167 (citing Fineman v. Armstrong World Indus., 980 F.2d 171, 186 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 921, 122 L. Ed. 2d 677, 113 S. Ct. 1285 (1993); Printing Mart v. Sharp Elec. Corp., 116 N.J. 739, 751-53, 563 A.2d 31 (1989)). "Where a person interferes with the performance of his or her own contract, the liability is governed by principles of contract law." Printing Mart, 116 N.J. at 753; see Cappiello v. Ragen Precision Indus., Inc., 192 N.J. Super. 523, 529, 471 A.2d 432 (App.Div. 1984) (stating that tortious interference with contract "requires the meddling into the affairs of another") (citing Sandler v. Lawn-A-Mat Chem. & Equip. Corp., 141 N.J. Super. 437, 450, 358 A.2d 805 (App.Div.), cert. denied, 71 N.J. 503, 366 A.2d 658 (1976)).
In this case, Plaintiffs allege Defendants, or one of their agents, interfered with their employment contracts with BANS. Because the tort of interference with contractual relations presupposes interference by a non-party to the contract, summary judgment is granted with respect to all Defendants on this claim. Cf. Shebar, 111 N.J. at 292 (determining there was a genuine issue of material fact whether plaintiff established defendant was liable for tortious interference with contract where defendant induced plaintiff to revoke acceptance of employment with other firm); Obendorfer v. Gitano Group, Inc., 838 F. Supp. 950, 956 (D.N.J. 1993) (dismissing claim by employee against supervisor for tortious interference where supervisor was acting in the course of his employment at the time he committed the complained of acts).
F. Breach of Contract
Plaintiffs allege Defendants are liable for breach of contract by providing assurances of continuing employment and refusing to allow them to be reassigned elsewhere within BAC or BANS. Complaint, PP 58-64. All Defendants seek summary judgment on this claim.
Plaintiffs concede they do not rely upon a written contract. "Plaintiffs simply assert an implied contract with the employer based on a contractual understanding and a history of dealing and experience and corporate culture." Opposition Brief at 39. "Essentially, the corporate history and culture and the policies of the company since Plaintiffs' employment formed a unilateral contract: 'if you do what we ask, you will not be terminated.'" Id.
As indicated in Shebar, the Supreme Court of New Jersey set out the prevailing "at will" employment rule in Savarese v. Pyrene Mfg. Co., 9 N.J. 595, 89 A.2d 237 (1952). Savarese held:
In the absence of additional express or implied stipulations as to duration, a contract for permanent employment, for life employment or for other terms purporting permanent employment, where the employee furnishes no consideration additional to the services incident to the employment, amounts to an indefinite general hiring terminable at the will of either party, and therefore, a discharge without cause does not constitute a breach of contract justifying recovery of money damages therefor.
Id. at 600-01 (citations and quotations omitted). The Supreme Court of New Jersey reaffirmed the Savarese rule in Shebar, indicating proof of lifetime employment must be "'clearly and unequivocally expressed in the contract itself.'" Shebar, 111 N.J. at 285 (quoting Savarese, 9 N.J. at 603); see Obendorfer, 838 F. Supp. at 953 (quoting Savarese, 9 N.J. at 600-01).
Although Plaintiffs argue they have an enforceable contract for lifetime employment pursuant to Woolley v. Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc., 99 N.J. 284, 491 A.2d 1257 (1985), that case is distinguishable. In Woolley, the Supreme Court of New Jersey held that "absent a clear and prominent disclaimer, an implied promise contained in an employment manual that an employee will be fired only for cause may be enforceable against an employer even when the employment is for an indefinite term and would otherwise be terminable at will." Id. at 285-86. Woolley was limited to commitments arising from written communications by an employer and did not affect the principles set out in Savarese.
In this case, the Plaintiffs were aware their positions would be eliminated. They were given assurances that efforts would be made to relocate them, and some displaced employees were in fact relocated. New Jersey law demands specific, concrete evidence of a contract for lifetime employment, and neither "corporate culture" nor the assurances of relocation in the instant case are sufficient to demonstrate such contracts. Accordingly, summary judgment is granted as to all Defendants with respect to this claim. See Shebar, 111 N.J. at 285 (citing Savarese, 9 N.J. at 603); id. at 286 (indicating words that "'partake more of the nature of a "friendly assurance of employment"'" are not grounds for a lifetime employment contract) (quoting Savarese, 9 N.J. at 603).
G. New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Claim
Plaintiffs allege Defendants are liable pursuant to the LAD, N.J.S.A. §§ 10:5-1 to 10:5-42, for discharging them "based on their age and race." Complaint, PP 65-67. Szygenda, Smith and Gamba seek summary judgment with respect to this claim.
The LAD provides in pertinent part:
It shall be an unlawful employment practice, or, as the case may be, an unlawful discrimination:
a. For an employer, because of the race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, sex or atypical hereditary cellular or blood trait of any individual, or because of the liability for service in the Armed Forces of the United States or the nationality of any individual, to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge or require to retire, unless justified by lawful considerations other than age, from employment such individual or to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment....