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Satz v. Taipina

April 17, 2003

WILLIAM SATZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DENNIS TAIPINA AND NOVARTIS PHARMACEUTICALS CORP., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Jerome B. Simandle

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Defendant Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation ("Novartis") made two decisions at issue in this case: first, it decided to transfer plaintiff William Satz from the "Philly South" sales district; then it decided to terminate plaintiff's employment with Novartis. Plaintiff, a Caucasian male, filed a Complaint with this Court, alleging that these two decisions were discriminatory. *fn1

The decisions were made in light of plaintiff's relationship with another Novartis salesperson, his ex-wife. In July 2000, when plaintiff and his ex-wife were both assigned to the Philly South sales district, they had an out-of-work domestic dispute and were both arrested on domestic violence charges. Based on the dispute, plaintiff's ex-wife obtained a restraining order against plaintiff and told her supervisor at Novartis, defendant Dennis Taipina, about it. Because of the restraining order against plaintiff, Taipina, along with other Novartis management employees, decided to separate plaintiff and his ex-wife by transferring plaintiff to another sales district. By the time Taipina told plaintiff of the transfer, plaintiff had also obtained a restraining order. Plaintiff told Taipina about his order, but Taipina did not change his decision to transfer plaintiff and allow plaintiff's ex-wife to remain in the Philly South district.

Plaintiff argues that the transfer decision was discriminatory because it was based on the "gender-based presumption -- that he was the wrongdoer in an out-of-work confrontation . . . because he was a male." (Pl.'s Br. at 2.) He argues that when he contested the discriminatory transfer decision, he was terminated from his employment at Novartis in retaliation. Defendants argue that the decision to transfer plaintiff was not based on his gender, but was based on their understanding that they were bound by a court order to ensure plaintiff had no contact with his ex-wife. The restraining order against plaintiff became a permanent order against him. They also argue that plaintiff's eventual termination was based solely on his failure to comply with his manager's performance expectations.

This motion for summary judgment requires the Court to first consider whether plaintiff, who was employed exclusively in Pennsylvania and Delaware by defendants who had offices in New Jersey, may pursue claims against defendants under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), N.J.S.A. §10:5-1. Then the Court must consider whether there remains any material question of fact regarding plaintiff's claims of discrimination, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

As explained herein, this Court finds that plaintiff may not assert the NJLAD against defendants because plaintiff was not employed in New Jersey as required by New Jersey law. This Court also finds that plaintiff has failed to raise any issue of material fact regarding his discrimination claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §2000e, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 P.S. §951, and the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Amendment (PERA), or regarding his privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. Therefore, this Court will grant defendants' motion for summary judgment and will dismiss plaintiff's complaint.

II. BACKGROUND

A. The parties

Novartis, a corporation headquartered in East Hanover, New Jersey, develops, manufactures, and sells pharmaceutical products. (Berlin Cert., Ex. G, Taipina Aff. ¶1.) Novartis was formed in 1997 after the merger of its predecessor, the Sandoz Corporation, and CIBA-Geigy. (Id.) Plaintiff was employed at Sandoz in 1988 as a pharmaceutical sales representative and worked "on the road every day visiting physicians, pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes or other healthcare providers." (Simon Cert., Ex. A, W. Satz Dep. 69:3-15; Pl.'s Facts ¶¶1, 2.)

In 1993, plaintiff married another sales representative, Rosemarie Satz. (Berlin Cert., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 78:18-21; Id., Ex. K at 2.) The Satzes were eventually transferred into the same "Philly South" sales district, which included two sales territories in Southern New Jersey and three territories in Philadelphia. *fn2 (Id., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 4:15-24; Id., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 78:4-24.) The Satzes worked in different sales territories in the sales district; plaintiff worked in Northeast Philadelphia and Mrs. Satz worked in South Jersey. (Id. at 25:3-11; Berlin Cert., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 7:13-19). They both worked for manager Dennis Taipina, who worked under Howard Goldberg, the regional director of sales for Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. (Id., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 4:13-16; Id., Ex. C, Goldberg Dep. 5:1-14; Id., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 6:13-17; Id., Ex. G, Taipina Aff. ¶1.)

At work, plaintiff and Mrs. Satz did not interact daily because they visited different doctors' offices. (Id., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 25:9-11; Id., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 14:22-24.) About twenty-five to thirty days per year, though, they attended the same district meetings, district dinner programs, and company events. (Id., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 13:4-19.)

Plaintiff was considered a successful salesperson. His counterpart in Northeast Philadelphia, Rick Miller, explained:

Bill just was, he was different. He just had those rapports that were unbreakable, and it didn't matter who his competitors were. . . . He brought something different to the table.

I think the biggest thing that I saw when we rode together or we worked together in physicians' offices was . . . he brought a value to the physician and was able to teach them and ensure something with them that was different than the average guy. He was passionate. . . . Most reps a lot of times don't get in to see the physician, they wait or just drop samples. Bill never dropped samples. He would get to see the physician and they were excited to see him. (Simon Cert., Ex. G, Miller Dep. 23:4-24:10.) Plaintiff's annual reviews for 2000 and 2001 show that he generally "met expectations." *fn3 (Id., Ex. H.)

B. The divorce

Mrs. Satz filed for divorce in November 1999. (Berlin Cert., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 6:1-8, 7:20-8:1; Id., Ex. K.) The divorce was finalized in June 2000, with Mrs. Satz receiving rights to the marital home in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. (Id.) Plaintiff moved to a home he purchased in Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania. (Simon Cert., Ex. J, W. Satz Dep. 190:9-10.)

The Satzes' manager, Dennis Taipina, was aware that the Satzes were having marital problems. (Berlin Cert., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 16:6-8; Id., Ex. G, Taipina Aff. ¶¶4, 6.) Prior to the divorce, he says that "both acknowledged that the divorce was stressful [but] assured [him] that they would remain professional and would not allow their working relationship or Novartis business to be affected by the pending divorce." (Id. ¶6.) Taipina says he then watched their relationship "degrade" as they soon seemed "uncomfortable in each other's presence," and he saw the effects of the divorce on their sales performance which for "both Rosemarie and William Satz began to slip below Company expectations." (Id. ¶7.)

It is not clear whether Mrs. Satz actually told Taipina that it was difficult working in the same district as plaintiff. Taipina testified, and noted contemporaneously, that Mrs. Satz approached him at a May 10, 2000 district meeting and "told me that she was having troubles at home and that she was no longer comfortable working with Bill Satz within the district." (Berlin Cert., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 12:2-21; Id., Ex. G, Taipina Aff. ¶8; Simon Cert., Ex. L at 1.) Mrs. Satz has no "recollection of ever complaining to any manager at Novartis that [she] could not work in the same district with [her] husband," but does recall a conversation with Taipina at the May 10th meeting where she told him that she "was still going through a difficult time at home" and that she was "stressed out." (Berlin Cert., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 8:12-16, 18:2-19:18.)

Taipina says that Mrs. Satz did not ask him to transfer plaintiff out of the territory, but said she was unwilling to transfer and asked him to "come up with a solution." (Id., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 14:7-17, 18:22-19:8). Taipina called plaintiff and offered to transfer him to another sales district, thinking "why have two people that are married, let alone divorced, working in the same district with all the open territories [that are] available." (Id., Ex. D, W. Satz Dep. 103:7-21.) Plaintiff did not want to transfer and no transfer was made. (Id., Ex. G, Taipina Aff. ¶¶9-10; Simon Cert., Ex. A, W. Satz Dep. 91:5-92:5.) Taipina did report the problem to his manager, Howard Goldberg, and to human resources because he says he knew he needed advice about the situation. (Berlin Cert., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 19:14-20; Id., Ex. H, DiPaolo Dep. 49:15-51:3.)

C. The "domestic violence" dispute on July 11, 2000

On July 11, 2000, plaintiff and Mrs. Satz had a fight at the former marital home in Cinnaminson, New Jersey. (Berlin Cert., Ex. D, W. Satz Dep. 199:17-202-25; Id., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 12:2-4.) The underlying facts of the day are in dispute, but it is clear that plaintiff and Mrs. Satz called the police who arrived and arrested both plaintiff and Mrs. Satz on domestic violence charges. *fn4 (Id., Ex. D, W. Satz Dep. 203:8-20.) At the police station, an officer asked if either would like a restraining order, but neither obtained one. (Id., Ex. F, W. Satz Dep. 49:21-25.) Plaintiff says that the only reason he did not get one was because he did not have time to go to Family Court that day since he was leaving the following day for vacation. (Id. at 49:25-50:11.)

D. The temporary restraining order

On July 12, 2000, plaintiff left on his planned vacation. (Id., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 12:5-14.) Also on July 12, 2000, Mrs. Satz, after speaking with her divorce attorney, obtained a temporary restraining order against plaintiff. (Id. at 12:5-13:22.) Mrs. Satz says that, although she did not understand the exact nature of the restraining order, she felt that she needed to tell her manager Taipina about it since it might affect her work performance. (Id. at 13:12-16, 22:11-15, 32:4-16; Berlin Cert., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 39:12-15.) The stress of the divorce had already caused her to lose sleep and weight and take a lot of sick days. (Id., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 16:3-5, 25:12-15.)

On July 15, 2000, while plaintiff was still on vacation, Mrs. Satz attended a Novartis function with the other Philly South sales representatives. (Simon Cert., Ex. F, Taipina Dep. 71:5-72:23.) Taipina remembers that Mrs. Satz tried to pull him aside during the dinner, looking "disheveled and very stressed out" and said that she needed to tell him "what was going on at home," but Taipina said it was not a good time to talk with all the sales representatives present and asked her to contact him later. (Id. at 73:12-76:18.) On Monday, July 17, 2000, she called him and told him "that I got a restraining order on Bill" and explained "exactly what happened, that he got physical with me, and that my divorce lawyer recommended I get a restraining order." (Berlin Cert., Ex. E, R. Satz Dep. 13:18-22.)

E. The decision to transfer plaintiff

Taipina had never had to "deal with" a restraining order before and thought it was a "pretty significant" issue to take care of because it involved domestic violence. (Berlin Cert., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 39:10-20). He called his manager, Howard Goldberg and told him that Mrs. Satz said "there was a restraining order from her against Bill and that they couldn't work together." (Id. at 40:5-11.) Taipina did not have a copy of the restraining order and did not get a copy of it until about a year later. (Id. at 40:12-23; Berlin Cert., Ex. J; Simon Cert., Ex. D, R. Satz Dep., 33:3-9.)

Taipina did not investigate the underlying allegations in the restraining order because he thought that it was "none of [his] business." (Berlin Cert., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 42:11-24.) Still, he and Goldberg felt a "sense of urgency" that plaintiff and Mrs. Satz be separated immediately because of the restraining order. (Id. at 45:5-24, 67:19-21, 132:19-20.) They thought they needed to ensure "the safety and well-being of the individuals involved as well as those that might be affected" in the workplace, (Berlin Cert., Ex. G, Taipina Aff. ¶12), and needed to transfer plaintiff to a position where he could perform his job requirements, which included attendance at "district meetings, regional/area meetings, launch meetings, dinner programs or other district functions," without seeing Mrs. Satz, (id. ¶13).

Taipina and Goldberg called Lisa DiPaolo in human resources who contacted the Novartis Legal Department. (Berlin Cert., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 68:15-19; Id., Ex. C, Goldberg Dep. 122:2-12, 124:1-8; Id., Ex. H, DiPaolo Dep. 56:8-24.) All agreed that plaintiff and Mrs. Satz should not work in the same district and that plaintiff should be the one transferred to another district because the restraining order was against him. (Id., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 50:3-9, 69:10-11; Id., Ex. C, Goldberg Dep. 126:9-10, 135:3-6; Id., Ex. H, DiPaolo Dep. 60:16-19, 65:13-18.) They did not actually see the restraining order or know whether it was temporary or permanent when they made their decision. (Id., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 50:3-9; Id., Ex. C, Goldberg Dep. 146:7-18; Id., Ex. H, DiPaolo Dep. 74:13-18.) Taipina says that all he "cared [was] that [it] existed and . . . that it would affect today . . . and the days after that . . . in the workplace" because it affected two salespeople in his district. (Id., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 142:15-17, 143:7, 184:16-20.)

"It was important to [Taipina] that the transfer t[ake] place the day [he] found out about the restraining order," especially because a district meeting was scheduled for about two weeks later on August 1st. (Id. at 67:12-21.) Taipina says that human resources looked into the territories available for the transfer and told him the only available territory was in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. (Id. at 63:4-10, 64:15-16.) Goldberg says he did not know that the Carlisle territory was about three and one-half hours from plaintiff's house, but recalls that he was told it was the "closest territory to his home that was open." (Berlin Cert., Ex. C, Goldberg Dep. 178:5-21.) Ms. DiPaolo says that she tried to place plaintiff in a territory that was close to his home, but was restrained by the territories that were available. (Berlin Cert., Ex. H, DiPaolo Dep. 71:17-20.) A territory closer than Carlisle "did not exist." (Id., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 67:10-11; Id., Ex. C, Goldberg Dep. 172:2-5.)

Plaintiff returned from vacation on July 19th and found Mrs. Satz's restraining order in his mail. (Berlin Cert., Ex. F, W. Satz Dep. 49:9-12.) He called his attorney who told him to get a restraining order against Mrs. Satz, which he did. (Id. at 49:12-14.) While at work on Thursday, July 20, 2000, plaintiff received a call from Taipina who told him he was being transferred to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. (Id., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 65:4-23; Simon Cert., Ex. A, W. Satz Dep. 93:1-24.)

Plaintiff was "shocked" that Taipina knew about the restraining order. (Berlin Cert., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 141:9-11.) He told Taipina that he also had a restraining order against Mrs. Satz. (Id.) Upon learning this, Taipina did not change his mind. (Id. at 144:16-17.) He says that he could have, but he thought that the second order gave him "all the more reason" to transfer one of the Satzes and did not see how transferring Mrs. Satz was a "better answer" to the problem. (Id. at 150:12-16, 153:23-24). He did not investigate the details of the underlying dispute, figuring that he could not really believe either rendition of the story and should base his decision on what he knew with certainty -- that a restraining order existed which required separation of the Satzes. (Id. at 182:9-18, 183:14-15.)

Taipina asked plaintiff to consider accepting the Carlisle territory and give him an answer by Monday, July 24th. (Id. at 198:12-24.) He admits that because the territory was the only one available, if plaintiff did not accept it, "technically, he would resign." (Id. at 65:15-23.) Plaintiff says that Taipina actually told him that he had "48 hours to transfer to Carlisle or resign because you're a bully and a wife beater." (Berlin Cert., Ex. F, W. Satz Dep. 95:7-8; Simon Cert., Ex. A, W. Satz Dep. 45:19-22, 93:19-94:15.) Taipina, however, says that his conversation with plaintiff was "professional in all respects" and that he never told plaintiff he was a "wife beater" or a "bully." (Berlin Cert., Ex. G, Taipina Aff. ¶16.)

Plaintiff was frustrated; he thought that when "two people get into a fight outside of work, the [company] should talk to both people before making a decision, rather than relying on the truth of one person's statement." (Berlin Cert., Ex. F, W. Satz Dep. 46:5-9.) He thinks that Novartis "should have conducted an investigation at that point rather than tell me the decision was final [and] kill somebody's career and reputation over a bitter ex-wife who's telling lies." (Id. at 46:21-47:11.) He felt that the company relied on the societal stereotype that "the male is generally the aggressor," and simply assumed he was at fault and should be punished by a transfer. (Id. at 120:6-12.) He admits this is "conjecture" because he does not know "what happened behind the scenes," but says he knows that Novartis "made a final decision without hearing what I had to say. So I can only assume in my own mind that it was discrimination." (Id. at 120:24-121:5.)

Taipina insists that:

[plaintiff's] gender was not a factor in the Company's decision to transfer him out of the Philadelphia South district. Mr. Satz was transferred based upon the need to maintain compliance with the restraining order, the needs of the business and the need to insure the safety and well-being of all those involved who might be affected. (Berlin Cert., Ex. G, Taipina Aff. ¶19.)

Ms. DiPaolo also says the transfer decision was "a business decision which needed to be made. . . . Rosemary Satz had a restraining order against Bill Satz . . . [the decision] had nothing to do with his gender or anything else." (Id., Ex. H, DiPaolo Dep. 200:19-201:5.)

F. Plaintiff's medical leave

Plaintiff says he was so "stressed out" by the restraining order and the transfer that he visited his family physician. (Id., Ex. F, W. Satz Dep. 96:6-18.) He feared:

repercussions that were about to occur such as my reputation was in the trash, everybody was going to know I was transferred to Carlisle, Pennsylvania for something . . . they thought I did because of the company's actions, the detriment to the fact I just purchased a house outside my territory in Northeast Philadelphia, and I had my father in a nursing home with less than a year to live . . . (Id.)

Plaintiff did not know if he could handle the demands of co-parenting and a long commute and a new client base. (Id. at 96:19-25.) His doctor prescribed an anti-anxiety medication, Ativan, and filled out forms so that he could take disability leave. (Id. at 96:6-97:25.)

Plaintiff called Lisa DiPaolo to tell her that he needed to take disability leave. (Berlin Cert., Ex. H, DiPaolo Dep. 95:13-21.) Ms. DiPaolo says plaintiff also told her that "his stress could all be alleviated, and there would be no need for him to go out on short-term disability and take leave if he had a different territory." (Id.) Taipina says plaintiff left him a similar voice mail message, stating that "[t]he cause of my stress is this territory transfer. I would be ready to come right back to work if this was over. . . . All my stress would be relieved if Rosemarie was transferred instead of me." (Simon Cert., Ex. L at 3.) Plaintiff says that he does not recall these conversations. (Id., Ex. A, W. Satz Dep. 115:11-117:2.)

Novartis had a policy which allowed it to contest any employee's request for disability leave, but it did not contest plaintiff's request. (Berlin Cert., Ex. H, DiPaolo Dep. 99:10-15.) During leave, plaintiff received full salary, benefits, and a commission as if he was an employee working in the Philly South district. (Id., Ex. B, Taipina Dep. 179:6-21.) Plaintiff admits that he was told that he would not need to transfer to Carlisle, but could instead choose from the territories available at the end of his leave. (Complaint ΒΆ34.) However, he says he was not treated properly during his disability leave because Taipina collected his computer and his samples, ...


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