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EDWARDS v. SCHLUMBERGER-WELL SERVS.

October 28, 1997

Lori Edwards, Plaintiff,
v.
Schlumberger-Well Services, a Division of Schlumberger Technology, Inc., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: IRENAS

 IRENAS, District Court:

 I. Introduction

 In March 1995, defendant Schlumberger-Well Services laid off 29 employees. One of the individuals laid off was plaintiff Lori Edwards. Plaintiff, a New Jersey resident, has filed a four-count complaint in connection with her layoff. Count I alleges gender discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Count II alleges a breach of contract. Count III alleges a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Count IV alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b), defendant Schlumberger Well Services, a division of Schlumberger Technology Corporation, a Texas corporation, timely filed a notice of removal on July 12, 1996. This Court has jurisdiction under § 1332(a)(1).

 Now before this Court is defendant's motion for summary judgment on all four counts of the complaint. For the reasons set forth below, this Court will grant the motion for summary judgment as to Counts II, III and IV, and deny defendant's motion for summary judgment as to Count I.

 II. Background

 A. Lori Edwards's Employment at Schlumberger

 Schlumberger-Well Services is a division of Schlumberger Technology, Inc., located in New Jersey. Schlumberger's Princeton, New Jersey, facility is known as EMR Photoelectric ("EMR"). EMR manufactures oil exploration detection devices (minitrons *fn1" and photoelectric equipment) and anti-missile detection systems. Plaintiff Lori Edwards began working at EMR on November 9, 1978. For approximately three years, plaintiff worked in EMR's "front end" where the parts used for minitrons and photoelectric equipment are cleaned and prepared. At various times thereafter, Edwards worked in the "dust free" area making parts and assembling tubes, in the acid labs cleaning and treating tubes and other parts, in the tumbling lab working on another part of EMR's cleaning process, and in the metalizing lab applying paint to the Kovar rings of assembled tubes and putting tubes into a piece of equipment in which silver is evaporated and put on the tubes' glass. Edwards also worked for a short time in EMR's hydrogen furnace room where parts are fired at different temperatures.

 On approximately May 12, 1982, after applying for a posted opening, Edwards began to "process minitrons." In this process, targets in the minitrons are heated, "out gassed," and then loaded with tritium and deuterium. Because of the radiation involved, *fn2" at least some part of this work takes place in EMR's "outside building." During the time that Edwards worked in the outside processing building, she continued to perform other duties, including wiring and testing for specific generators.

 In approximately 1989 or 1990 Edwards also began working with a piece of equipment called a Titanium Ball Evaporator ("Ti-ball Evaporator"). The Ti-ball evaporator evaporates copper targets onto a disk. It was located in different parts of EMR's main building at different times during Edwards's employment, but always in the main building. Whether Edwards would be "outside" processing tubes *fn3" or in the main building making targets depended upon whether EMR needed tubes or targets at a given time. During busy periods, as much as 40% of Edwards's time was spent working with the Ti-ball evaporator.

 Schlumberger laid off 23 employees in 1991, not including Edwards. At some point in 1992, Schlumberger laid off 14 employees. Edwards survived these layoffs. From June to September in 1992, Edwards was out on maternity leave. In the summer of 1992, either just before or during her maternity leave, Edwards was promoted to the job level classification known as Manufacturing Technician II-Mechanical. After the 1992 layoffs, Edwards was the only EMR employee with the job title of Manufacturing Technician II-Mechanical. After EMR reorganized its operations in September 1994, Edwards was working in the newly designated Generators Group assembling minitrons, and was still a Manufacturing Technician II-Mechanical employee. *fn4"

 B. Edwards's Work with Vacuum Systems

 Minitrons and other photoelectric equipment must be manufactured under a vacuum in order to prevent foreign particles from being introduced into the manufacturing process. Accordingly, the "outside" building is equipped with vacuum systems. At some point, apparently as a result of layoffs taking place around 1985 or 1986, Edwards was made responsible for maintaining the outside building's vacuum systems and the equipment used to measure radiation levels. Apparently in connection with her new vacuum duties, in August 1986, Edwards was sent by EMR to a one-week course in vacuum technology. Edwards learned how to work with and maintain vacuum systems, and how to make certain repairs on them. Edwards's vacuum maintenance duties in the outside building entailed baking out the roughing pumps, changing pots, putting chlorohydrins and deuterium tritium into the pots, and greasing valves. Edwards also worked with the vacuum systems in the main building in connection with her operation of the Ti-ball evaporator.

 C. Kevin Lewis's Employment History with Defendant

 The record is replete with references by EMR supervisory and managerial personnel to Lewis's skills at troubleshooting, diagnosing problems with, and repairing EMR's vacuum systems. For example, James Thornton, head of the Generators Group, has stated that Lewis "knew how to come up with ideas to make [the vacuum systems] better and do repair work," "did a lot of repair work," "had a lot of diagnostic skills" and probably is still the plant vacuum systems "expert." (Thornton Dep. at 77). Thornton says that he was told when he arrived at EMR that Lewis knew more about the vacuum systems than anyone else, and that "over time I witnessed it firsthand." (Thornton Dep. at 81). Defendant states that Lewis "was the sole person with vacuum expertise at defendant's facility" at the time of the 1995 layoffs. (Defendant's Responses and Objections to First Set of Interrogatories at 9). Lewis's employment appraisals include references to Lewis's ability to diagnose and repair EMR's vacuum systems quickly and to his outstanding working knowledge of the vacuum systems. (See Supp. Cert. of Joseph A. Boyle, Ex. A).

 At some time in 1992, Lewis also learned how to process minitrons and to melt targets in the Ti-ball evaporator. During the period of Edwards's maternity leave, from June to September in 1992, Lewis performed some portion of Edwards's duties in EMR's "outside" building, including the outside building minitron processing. In November 1994, Kevin Lewis was moved -- functionally, if not formally -- into the Generators Group. He assumed responsibility for operating the Ti-ball evaporator. For about four months prior to the 1995 layoffs, then, Lewis operated the Ti-ball evaporator while continuing to perform vacuum maintenance work around the plant. *fn6"

 D. Edwards's Discussions with EMR's Personnel Manager About her Fate in the Event of Layoffs

 Edwards became concerned at this time about Lewis's move into the generators group because she perceived that business was slow and that there wouldn't be enough work to occupy both her and Lewis. She initiated a conversation with Rebecca Millard, EMR's personnel manager, in November 1994, about this concern. According to Edwards, Millard told her that "if there ever were to be a layoff, they would get rid of me and keep Kevin." Edwards alleges that Millard continued as follows: "She said because, first of all, there wasn't enough work for both of us, and if there was to be a layoff, she said, me being female; him being male, they're going to choose him because the fellows don't want you out there anyway." (Edwards Dep. at 47). Edwards was advised by Millard that her job would be at risk as long as she stayed in her current group. Millard told her that she should try to "bump" into a front end position where under company policy her experience and seniority would protect her in the event of a layoff. (Edwards Dep. at 47). Edwards began to cry, and Millard then "stated . . . how things were around there with male versus female, how females were never number one on their priority list, how females never get the same kind of raises as men do there." (Edwards Dep. at 47).

 Recognizing that Edwards was highly upset by this meeting, Millard bought and gave her flowers later that day. Other EMR employees have described Edwards's emotional state after this meeting. Cardarelli, Dolores Brightwell, a former personnel department employee, and Spring Taylor, a wiring department employee, say that Edwards was extremely upset, "uncontrollable," "hysterical" and crying. (Cardarelli Dep. at 41-42; Brightwell Dep. at 52, 54; Taylor Dep. at 18, 22). Cardarelli says that Edwards told him after her conversation with Millard that Millard had said that EMR was getting rid of Edwards at the next layoff. (Cardarelli Dep. at 41). Brightwell says that Edwards told her after her meeting with Millard that EMR was going to give her job to Lewis. (Brightwell Dep. at 54). Taylor gives essentially the same account of what Edwards was telling her co-workers after the meeting with Millard: that her job was in jeopardy, apparently because of Lewis. (Taylor Dep. at 18).

 Edwards reports approaching James Thornton and telling him about what Millard had said. She states that Thornton told her that she would not be replaced by Lewis in the event of a layoff. (Edwards Aff. at P 9). Thornton denies making this statement to her. (Thornton Dep. at 124). Cardarelli, Brightwell and Taylor recall learning from Edwards or from other sources that Thornton had made this statement to Edwards. (Cardarelli Dep. at 46-47; Brightwell Dep. at 57-58; Taylor Dep. at 26). Brightwell says that she approached Thornton about what had been said in Edwards's meeting with Millard, and that he said: "That's bullshit. She's not -- Kevin is not going to get her job." Brightwell says she told Thornton that he ought to go talk to Millard then, given what she had said. Brightwell alleges that she saw Thornton and Millard visiting each other's offices that day. (Brightwell Dep. at 56-57). *fn7"

 E. The March 1995 Layoffs

 The parties dispute when the March 1995 layoffs first were contemplated and discussed by EMR management. EMR managers maintain that the first management meeting regarding the layoffs occurred in early March, 1995. (Millard Dep. at 71; Thornton Dep. at 53; Pietras Dep. at 33). There were rumors of layoffs circulating in September and October of 1994. (Cardarelli Dep. at 42). Edwards alleges that Robert Matolka, EMR's former safety manager, told her that he had begun attending management meetings regarding layoffs in October 1994. (Edwards Aff. at P 10).

 Through several deponents, defendant has described how the employees to be laid off in March 1995 were selected. EMR's various managers, or department heads, *fn8" participated in meetings in which the financial figures were reviewed and initial determinations were made regarding how many persons would need to be laid off. The managers went through a process of figuring out which employees had which skills, who was dispensable and who was not, which employees if retained could take over functions performed by employees to be laid off, and generally how the layoffs could be conducted and job duties shuffled so that EMR could continue to manufacture its products. (See Thornton Dep. at 62-67, 88-89; Millard Dep. at 89-94, 98-101; Pietras Dep. at 35-39; Defendant's Responses and Objections to Plaintiff's First Set of Interrogatories at 9-10).

 At this time James Thornton was in charge of the Generators Group and was essentially responsible for making the recommendations as to which employees in his group would be laid off. (Thornton Dep. at 64). In his short tenure at EMR, Thornton had familiarized himself with the generator groups employees, their skill bases and their job performance in his short time at EMR through discussions with those employees, their supervisors and other managers. *fn9" While the recommendation to let a generators group employee like Edwards go would be made by Thornton, the final and official decision would be made by John Hunka, EMR's general manager. (Thornton Dep. 64, 112-13).

 A total of 29 employees were laid off as a result of the March 1995 reduction in force. Of these 29 people, 21 were men. Edwards was the only Manufacturing Technical II-Mechanical at EMR at the time. With the exception of Kevin Lewis, all five of the other Manufacturing Technical II personnel were laid off: four of them were men; three of them were Manufacturing Technical II-Technical and two were Manufacturing Technical II-Electrical. Of these five, two had more seniority than Kevin Lewis, and one had more seniority than Edwards as well. (Defendant's Responses and Objections to Plaintiff's First Set of Interrogatories at 6-8).

 F. The Decision to Lay off Edwards

 Edwards's version of the decision to lay her off can be articulated succinctly. Management did not want Edwards working where she was because she was a woman. Kevin Lewis wanted her job. Knowing that layoffs were imminent, management moved Lewis into Edwards's group to perform her job duties. In March 1995, when layoffs became necessary, defendant laid off Edwards instead of Lewis -- just as Millard had predicted -- even though he had no more skills than her and less time in the company, and gave all of Edwards's duties to Lewis. Defendant tells a different story.

 As an initial matter, as discussed above, defendant denies that any layoff meetings, discussions or decisions pre-dated March 1995. Next, according to defendant, the generators group, like the other groups, approached the question of whom to lay off as a question of how many people, and which people, could be let go without crippling the group. Thornton and the other managers considered Edwards' employment consistent with this approach. As of March 1995, Edwards' main job was to process minitrons in the outside building. meaning she loaded tritium and deuterium into the minitrons. She also made targets using the Ti-ball Evaporator in the main building. Edwards did a fine job of processing minitrons and could do a little maintenance, but that was the extent of her skills: when anything happened "she needed to rely on somebody else." (See Thornton Dep. at 70, 71-72, 90). Other employees -- Don Miller, Lou Cardarelli, Kevin Lewis -- knew how to process minitrons and could "do that position." (Thornton dep. at 89).

 Kevin Lewis had been in charge of maintaining the vacuum system for the entire plant as of Thornton's October 1994 arrival at EMR. Whether Lewis was formally in the generators group in late 1994 is unclear. Lewis was like other EMR employees whose work spanned production areas; such employees had to be grouped somewhere, but their group assignments essentially failed to reflect the entire range of their work. (Thornton at 74-75). Lewis was helping out and getting more involved in the generators group. He was making targets in the main building. (Thornton Dep. at 73-74).

 Apparently, most of EMR's assembled minitrons had been "failing" because of problems associated with the cleanliness of the production system. Lewis had been brought in to make targets "because he had the most expertise" in the vacuum systems; he had the ability to diagnose and fix problems with the vacuum systems and to make the minitrons "technically better" as a result. (Thornton Dep. at 76-77). Lewis in fact did make the vacuum systems "a lot better." (Thornton Dep. at 77). Edwards was occupied processing minitrons at this time. (Thornton Dep. at 147). According to Millard, the conclusion that Lewis was indispensable and the decision to retain him both were reached before the managers discussed Edwards's situation. (Millard Dep. at 118).

 As Manufacturing Technical II-Mechanical, Edwards was the only person in her job group for layoff and seniority purposes in March 1995. (Thornton Dep. at 106, 108-09; Millard Aff. at P 3). That fact made her eligible for layoff because "job title" seniority would only protect an employee relative to other employees in the same "job group." (Millard Dep. at 156-57: see Thornton Dep. at 63, 82-83, 86, 107; Plaintiff's Response to Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex. 14). *fn10" Edwards's fate, however, was determined by a combination of the need to downsize and the presence of other employees who could do her job as well as perform other vital functions. (See Thornton Dep. at 86, 89, 90).

 The fact was that Lewis could perform Edwards's processing and target work, and generally run the plant's vacuum systems. As the vacuums systems expert, Lewis was deemed indispensable while Edwards was not. (See Thornton Dep. at 81, 89-90; Millard Dep. at 101, 118). As Thornton put the matter, "Kevin's job skills were a superset of Lori's." (Thornton Dep. at 79).

 G. Events Occurring After the Layoffs

 Edwards discusses several events which occurred after she was laid off which she argues are relevant in this case. First, after the March 1995 layoffs, Lewis assumed the bulk of Edwards's job duties. He took over the minitron processing and assumed responsibility for the Ti-ball evaporator. (Thornton Dep. at 131, 132; Lewis Dep. at 39). *fn11" Edwards also points out that the Ti-ball evaporator, which had been in the main building at all times during Edwards' employment, was moved to the outside building so that Lewis could do his jobs more efficiently.

 Second, Lewis received a promotion in approximately September 1995, to Manufacturing Technician III-Systems. Edwards draws attention to Lewis's promotion and raise because of her belief that an employee needed a college degree in order to be a level III employee and the fact that Lewis did not have such a degree. *fn12" Additionally, Edwards alleges that EMR had said it was freezing raises and promotions for one year after the layoffs. *fn13" Edwards also highlights Lewis's promotion because his job duties did not change following his promotion. Finally, Edwards highlights the promotion and raise as evidence that Lewis had a "guardian angel" at EMR in the person of controller Mike Zito.

 Third, at some point after March 1995, EMR began to outsource some of the vacuum systems repair work that ...


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