On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-3725-99.
Before Judges Conley, A.A. Rodríguez and Lefelt.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lefelt, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Defendant Vicinage 13 of Superior Court terminated plaintiff Jeannette Tynan from her position as Hunterdon County Superior Court Jury Manager when she failed to return to work after an eleven-month leave. Tynan appeals from the trial court's summary judgment dismissing her entire complaint against the vicinage and several individual supervisors including the count charging that defendants failed to accommodate her medical condition in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-2 to - 42,(LAD). We affirm dismissal of most of the counts of plaintiff's complaint, but conclude that a factual dispute was present regarding whether defendants reasonably accommodated Tynan's disability and reverse and remand on that basis.
We recount the pertinent facts from plaintiff's perspective, Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995), followed by the relevant procedural history. Tynan began working as the Jury Manager of Vicinage 13 Hunterdon County in May 1987. As jury manager, Tynan was responsible for providing the vicinage with both criminal and civil trial juries. For several years, the vicinage appeared to be satisfied with her performance and Tynan was happy with her working conditions.
In December 1993, however, defendant Angela Pardo became "Administrative Assistant/Court Operations for Vicinage 13" and Tynan's immediate supervisor. While Pardo has had several title changes, throughout the relevant period of this dispute she remained Tynan's supervisor. Tynan's difficulties with Pardo began in the summer of 1995. On July 18, 1995, Pardo issued Tynan a written performance warning for unauthorized absence from the workplace on July 3, 1995 and submission of a time sheet that did not reflect that Tynan left work in the middle of the day for an extended period of time. In addition, the warning was issued because Tynan failed to bring to Pardo's attention an error in the processing of juror payments from an invalid account and was covering up her mistake.
According to Tynan, she had broken her eyeglasses and because she was working late that evening she went to the mall to get them fixed. Tynan states that she submitted a time sheet that accurately reflected the hours she worked. It should be noted that this was not a time sheet that reported the specific activity being performed throughout the working day at particular time intervals. Instead, Tynan was merely obligated to report the total hours worked for the day.
With regard to the invalid account charge, the warning itself noted that by the time Pardo became aware of the problem, Tynan "had already contacted the County and negotiated an arrangement to have the checks covered.. .." Pardo wanted Tynan to advise her in the future of such problems so Pardo could provide direction. According to Tynan, Pardo grossly exaggerated the incidents and unjustifiably accused Tynan of misrepresentation, "dishonesty and poor judgment" and conduct "unbefitting the high level of responsibility and trust inherent in the position of Jury Manager." Further disciplinary action including termination was threatened if Tynan failed to improve her performance.
Tynan notified Pardo that these untrue accusations were aggravating and exacerbating her existing physical conditions. She provided Pardo with an MRI documenting an abnormal cranial condition causing migraine headaches. Tynan also told Pardo that her colitis and depression were aggravated by this disciplinary overreaction. Tynan asked that Pardo stop harassing her.
It should also be noted that the vicinage was aware that in 1990, Tynan's adult daughter became brain damaged in an alcohol related automobile accident. The daughter became an invalid requiring constant care. As a result of this tragedy, Tynan had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Another incident cited by Tynan centered on Judge Andrew Smithson's unannounced visit to Hunterdon County Court to discuss the selection of a special jury panel for a capital murder trial. According to Tynan, Pardo accused her of improperly scheduling the meeting with Judge Smithson, which left Tynan "trembling and crying." The judge subsequently wrote stating he had indeed come unannounced and that Tynan "was . . . vital to the success of the long and difficult jury selection process." The judge's staff specifically asked that he "incorporate their praise and thanks for the job that Ms. Tynan performed."
On October 22, 1996, Pardo sent Tynan a second performance warning for several problems including a mix-up of grand jury dates. Pardo claimed that although Tynan corrected the date on the jury order, she failed to contact Pardo regarding that correction. In addition, Pardo charged that Tynan failed to respond to Pardo's request that Tynan obtain information needed from a vendor used by the jury manager's office for data processing services. Pardo needed the information in order to respond to an inquiry from the Finance Manager. In addition, according to Pardo, Tynan had failed to communicate to Pardo that an invoice from this vendor had not been paid for over a year.
Pardo charged Tynan with "insubordination" and a "pattern of behavior," and again, further disciplinary action was threatened including possible termination of Tynan's employment. Tynan explained that this exchange with Pardo "triggered every physical symptom that I had." Tynan said the discipline notice caused her to be physically sick. She was a "nervous wreck," her "blood pressure was sky high, with bloody diarrhea all weekend."
With regard to the need to correct the grand jury dates, Tynan contended that she had advised Pardo that she had recently been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis which was aggravated by stress. She advised Pardo that she had called in sick on Friday, because she had been up all night Thursday with a colitis attack. Tynan claims that Pardo told her she had to come in to work and that the date correction letters had to go out that date. Tynan stated she advised Pardo that she was very sick, but Pardo responded by telling her she had to come to work. According to Tynan, this further magnified her illness.
In February 1997, Tynan met with defendant Assistant Trial Court Administrator Sue Regan with respect to her work- place treatment. Tynan told her she wanted Pardo's harassing behavior toward her to stop and that it was affecting her health.
In January 1998, Tynan contacted the Human Resources Division in Trenton regarding those problems. Robert Battle the chief of EEO/AA suggested that Tynan contact Human Resources Director Rachel Morejon and explain to her the details of the situation.
Tynan explained that she met with Morejon because she "wanted the harassment to stop, I wanted it out in the open, and I wanted somebody to do something because I was sick and tired of being sick and tired." According to Tynan, Morejon stated that she could file a formal complaint, but Tynan stated that she wanted to handle the problem "administratively."
The Vicinage Assignment Judge assigned Regan to handle the situation and address Tynan's concerns. At a meeting with Regan, Tynan stated that she wished to perform her job in a non-stressful atmosphere and that her stomach got in knots whenever Pardo called. At this meeting, according to Tynan, she also submitted medical proof from her doctor.
Thereafter, Regan developed a five-point list of recommendations to handle the problem. The recommendations required the Human Resources Manager to present an overview to Pardo and Tynan as to their respective roles and how they relate to the organization. In addition, Tynan was to establish the goals and objectives for her job and Pardo was "to be on site one day a week until there is improvement in the situation." Significantly, Pardo was to develop a plan with input from Tynan as to how "to improve the negative working relationship that exists." Regan was to meet with both parties in ...