The opinion of the court was delivered by: Brotman, District Judge.
OPINION REGARDING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Plaintiff Raymond G. Cooper is currently employed as a Clerk
at the Cape May County Board of Social Services. (Pl. Compl. at
¶ 1). Defendant Cape May County Board of Social Services is a
public agency in the State of New Jersey charged with
administering welfare benefits and social services programs
throughout Cape May County. (Pl. Compl. at ¶ 2); (Dep. of Joseph
B. Fahy, Def. Br.App. M, at 11) ("Fahy Dep."). Defendant Joseph
B. Fahy is the Director of the Cape May County Board of Social
Services and has direct authority for the hiring and promotion
of Board of Social Services Employees in accordance with
regulations outlined by the New Jersey Department of Personnel.
(Pl. Compl. at ¶ 3); (Fahy Dep. at 11). Defendant Edna Hand is
an Administrative Supervisor of Income Maintenance with the
Medicaid Unit of the Cape May County Board of Social Services,
and is responsible for overseeing the administration of Medicaid
programs throughout Cape May County. (Pl. Compl. at ¶ 4);
(Def.'s Answer at ¶ 4); (Dep. of Edna Hand, Def. Br.App. L, at
10) ("Hand Dep.").
B. Factual and Procedural Background
In this action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants denied him a
promotion to the position of Income Maintenance Technician in
retaliation against him for complaints he made to the New Jersey
Department of Personnel regarding a co-worker, Ms. Donna Bright.
On or around December 1994, Plaintiff started working for the
Cape May County Board of Social Services ("Board") as a
maintenance employee as part of a welfare community work
experience, or "reach" program. (Dep. of Raymond Cooper, Def.
Br.App. K, at 14-15) ("Cooper Dep."), which placed him in the
position as a condition of his receipt of welfare benefits.
(Cooper Dep. at 15). On or about April 3, 1995, Plaintiff was
hired as a Senior Telephone Operator on a temporary basis to
fill in for a disabled employee who was in the hospital. (See
Pl. Stmt. of Uncontested Facts at 4); (Cooper Dep. at 17). With
the help of Mr. Fahy, Plaintiff was then hired on or about
October 2, 1995 as a permanent Clerk within the Fiscal Unit.
Id. The job description of Clerk, an entry level
noncompetitive position, involves performing "routine,
repetitive, clerical work of a varied nature," including a
"relatively small proportion of difficult tasks." (See Pl.App.
Plaintiff's duties as a Clerk included mail sorting and
distribution, telephone coverage, stuffing envelopes, and the
transport of checks and food stamps. (Fahy Dep. at 34). In
addition, he also performed maintenance and janitorial work,
including the repair of rugs and tiles, moving of equipment,
wiring for equipment, and the keeping of maintenance records for
Board vehicles. (Cooper
Dep. at 36-37). The decision to split Plaintiffs
responsibilities between the Clerk and maintenance positions
stemmed from Plaintiffs "serious limitations" in his ability to
perform the duties expected of the Clerk position. (Fahy Dep. at
34-35). He could not perform bookkeeping functions and had
difficulty with filing documents. Id. Although he was
officially a Clerk, he performed only thirty percent of the
duties associated with the position and focused primarily on
maintenance, because his position had been created and "pieced
together" to help transition Plaintiff into the work force as a
part of welfare reform. (Fahy Dep. at 34-37). During this time,
the Board was planning to relocate its offices, was involved in
the construction of a new building, and Plaintiff helped to
support the relocation effort.
The first day of operation in the Board's new facilities was
on or about June 24, 1996. In the months that followed the move,
Plaintiff continued splitting his time (Cooper Dep. at 38)
working under the direct supervision of Ed Selnick, a Fiscal
Officer within the Fiscal Unit, and also occasionally performing
duties for Mr. Jim Hersh, who had previously been his supervisor
when Plaintiff worked as part of the reach program. (Fahy Dep.
at 35, 54-56).
1. Plaintiff's Interaction with Donna Bright
On February 18, 1997, Ms. Donna Bright ("Ms.Bright") was hired
within the Fiscal Unit as a Confidential Clerk reporting
directly to Ed Selnick. (Plt'f's Stmt. of Uncontested Facts at
4), (Def. Answer at ¶ 3). Sometime thereafter, Mr. Fahy decided
to employ Ms. Bright in the capacity of an Office Manager, and,
accordingly, she was given additional responsibilities. (Fahy
Dep. at 58-59). Her primary duty was to ensure adequate coverage
within the Fiscal Unit. Mr. Fahy communicated this decision to
Plaintiff and everyone within the office, even Ed Selnick, who
routinely referred Plaintiff to Ms. Bright when administrative
issues arose, such as requests for administrative leave,
vacation time or the distribution of work assignments. (Cooper
Dep. at 44-46). Plaintiff stated that he first learned of Ms.
Bright's designation as Office Manager toward the end of 1997
when he started getting his time slips back with her signature
on them and when she asserted supervisory authority over clerks
within the Fiscal Unit regarding the approval and denial of
time. (Dep. of Raymond Cooper, Def. Br. Ex. J at 29-30) ("Cooper
Problems between Plaintiff and Ms. Bright began shortly after
she assumed her office management duties. Plaintiffs splitting
of his responsibilities working for Ms. Bright and Jim Hersh
proved to be problematic and caused friction between her and
Plaintiff. Ms Bright gave work to Plaintiff and then he would be
called out to assist Mr. Hersh. (Cooper Dep. at 52). Plaintiff
stated that Ms. Bright informed the three women clerks with whom
he worked that they were not permitted to help Plaintiff with
his workload Id. at 52-53, and as a result, upon returning
from his maintenance duties, he was behind in his work and
wondered why no one would assist him. Plaintiff contacted both
his union and Mr. Fahy and told them he "didn't want to do
maintenance anymore cause he was hearing slack from the room"
Id. at 59., and he was subsequently assigned to work
exclusively within the Fiscal Unit. Id. at 55-56. Plaintiff
maintains, however, that even after his assignment, Ms. Bright
continued to make sly remarks to him. Id. at 58.
Plaintiff maintains that he was denied overtime opportunities
involving food stamp distribution. Id. at 51; (See Ltr. from
Plt'f. to Mr. Fahy, dated May 6, 1998, Def. Br.App. B) ("Cooper
Letter"). He also complained that Ms. Bright suspected him of
having stolen food stamps and would come over to his desk,
thinking that he "had them stashed around there or something."
Id. During this time, incidentally, the fraud unit of the
Board had been conducting an investigation of disappearances of
food stamp coupons, which resulted in the discovery that two
postal employees were involved in the theft. (Fahy Dep. at 112).
Plaintiff sought out his union representatives, Jean Monihan
and Judy Ladd, and asked them "how a clerk typist can tell the
office staff what to do" Id. at 61, and also asked them to
file a formal grievance. They refused, however, stating that
because Ms. Bright was appointed to the position, "there was
nothing they could do about it." Id. In addition to this
specific complaint to his union representatives, Plaintiff
complained to the union several other times regarding his
treatment by Ms. Bright and her attitude and demeanor not only
towards him, but also toward his co-workers. (Cooper II Dep. at
93). It was generally acknowledged, however, that Ms. Bright was
"not an easy person," was "sharp in her dealings with anyone,"
and was "abrupt." (Fahy Dep. at 60).
Aside from the general friction between Plaintiff and Ms.
Bright, the first significant incident occurred on or about
February 5, 1998, when Plaintiff telephoned the office to leave
a message for Ms. Bright informing her that he would be absent
from work that day because his son was sick. Id. at 37. When
Plaintiff arrived to work the next day, Ms. Bright told him he
would have to take administrative time, in lieu of a sick day.
Id. When asked why, she told him to take up the time
classification matter with Mr. Fahy. Id.
Plaintiff was again denied administrative leave on March 3,
1998 when he asked Ed Selnick for the afternoon off to have the
tires on his car replaced because one was "ready to blow."
(Cooper II Dep. at 35-36), (Cooper Dep. at 45). Although Mr.
Selnick permitted Plaintiff to take the afternoon off, Ms.
Bright later denied his request, despite Plaintiffs explanation
of the situation. Id.
On April 24, 1998, Plaintiff was formally reprimanded after an
incident involving the postage meter on the postal machine.
Plaintiff left a note on Ms. Bright's desk informing her that
the postage meter required replenishment for an upcoming bulk
mailing. (Cooper II Dep. at 50-53). The postage meter was
normally maintained at an amount of $1500, but had been
substantially depleted. Plaintiff, who had been out of the
office the day before, was held responsible for this event,
which resulted in a formal letter of reprimand dated April 29,
1998 being placed in his file. Id. at 50-55; 62. Plaintiff was
upset because he had nothing to do with the depletion of postage
on the machine, having simply informed her of the need to add
postage to the meter. The letter of reprimand also addressed a
number of other matters, including employee lunches and an
incident where Plaintiff forgot to put out new time cards in
time for the other
employees. Id. at 62; (See "Cooper Letter").
After the postage incident, Plaintiff went to the Union and
Mr. Fahy regarding Ms. Bright's exercise of supervisory
authority over him, specifically regarding the letter of
reprimand. Id. at 53. Mr. Fahy declined, however, to remove
the letter from his file. Id. Plaintiff then went further, and
on April 30, 1998, contacted and met with Mr. Anthony L. Gricco
("Mr.Gricco"), a Human Resource Management Consultant with the
New Jersey Department of Personnel ("New Jersey DOP" or "DOP").
In this meeting, Plaintiff addressed his problems concerning Ms.
Bright. He told Mr. Gricco of the treatment he received, the
denial of days off, her general tone and demeanor, and repeated
his allegations of gender discrimination. (Cooper II Dep. at
65-66). Plaintiff also informed the union and his co-workers
about his contact with the DOP. Id. at 147-48. He stated that
Mr. Gricco explained to him that Mr. Fahy would be advised that
Ms. Bright could not work in that capacity because of her job
title. Id. at 66.
Shortly after Plaintiffs conversation with Mr. Gricco, Mr.
Gricco spoke to Mr. Fahy regarding Plaintiffs situation. Mr.
Fahy testified that "I explained [to Mr. Gricco] what I was
trying to accomplish [regarding the functioning of the Fiscal
Unit] and he told me what she [Ms. Bright] could and could not
do in that position, so that I implemented those changes prior
to the receipt of the letter*fn1 which was a couple of months
later." (Fahy Dep. at 61).
On May 6, 1998, Plaintiff sent a letter to Mr. Fahy echoing
his earlier complaints and grievances. The letter reiterated the
above allegations and incidents of unfair treatment from Ms.
Bright, the denial of leave and overtime opportunities, and his
general malaise at having to work with her. (See Cooper Ltr.).
Plaintiff stated that the situation "has only gotten worse and
feel that legal action may become necessary to protect my future
with this agency." Id.
Following Plaintiffs contact with Mr. Fahy and Mr. Gricco and
into the summer of 1998, Plaintiffs situation worsened. He
Well, she [Ms. Bright] started putting me on the
phone a lot, lot more to — and then I couldn't get my
work done What else? I took on other people's — like
I started doing stuff that Janet used to do. I
started doing stuff that Janet used to do. The
Medicaid things that I would help out on now became
mine. He I didn't get to `em — I used to do them when
I had time, I would help Janet out, and now it was
mine. So they would pile up until I got time to get
to `em and then I'd have stacks of `em.
Plaintiff's time off requests continued to be authorized by
Ms. Bright. However, she used a rubber stamp that contained Mr.
Fahy's signature, a change that Mr. Fahy instituted in response
to his phone call with Mr. Gricco. Id. at 75; (Fahy Dep. at
62) Ms. Bright would consult with him regarding the grant ...