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Grasso v. West New York Board of Education

November 03, 2003

YVETTE GRASSO, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT/ CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
WEST NEW YORK BOARD OF EDUCATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT/ CROSS-RESPONDENT, AND ANTHONY YANKOVICH, PABLO CLAUSELL, JANET PASSANTE, CLAIRE WARNOCK, XENIA GAETA, NELSON DIAZ, AND FRANCESA CORDASCO, DEFENDANTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Docket No. L-10709-97.

Before Judges Stern, A.A. Rodriguez and Lefelt.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lefelt, J.A.D.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued September 23, 2003

Defendant West New York Board of Education rejected plaintiff Yvette Grasso's promotion applications for ten administrative and supervisory positions from July 1996 to June 1997.*fn1 Plaintiff sued the Board and individually named defendants, claiming that by declining to promote her the Board violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42. A jury found that the Board discriminated against plaintiff on the basis of gender when it refused to promote her to one of the ten positions, high school assistant principal. The jury awarded plaintiff $110,000 as compensation for her emotional distress.

The trial judge reduced the jury's award on a motion for remittitur to $11,000, awarded plaintiff $66,737 in"bifurcated" back pay, and found it had no jurisdiction to award tenure and no jurisdiction to promote plaintiff or award front pay.

Defendants appeal, contending that the trial court erroneously allowed the jury to consider a"stray remark," which the jury improperly relied upon to find discrimination. Defendants further contend that the back pay award was speculative because it assumed that had plaintiff been promoted she would have been rehired after the statutorily required one year appointment. N.J.S.A. 18A:28-7. Plaintiff cross-appeals from the trial court's denial of front pay and promotion and from the trial court's remittitur. We affirm the jury's verdict as reduced by the trial court, and affirm the court's denial of front pay and promotion, but reverse the back pay award and remand for reconsideration of that issue.

I.

Here are the pertinent facts and procedural history. Plaintiff is a tenured teacher employed by defendant board. She began working for the West New York school district in 1981 as an ESL teacher, teaching English as a second language. She served as head teacher of ESL for five years.

After becoming certified to serve as an administrator, supervisor, or principal, she applied for ten promotional positions within the district that were posted from July 1996 through June 1997. Plaintiff was interviewed for every position for which she applied, but each time the Board promoted another.

At the trial of plaintiff's LAD complaint, defendant Anthony Yankovich, Assistant Superintendent for Personnel, and defendant Dr. Pablo Clausell, Superintendent of Schools, testified regarding the Board's hiring process. They stated that in 1996, the Board established a formal interview process. Yankovich, Clausell, and the building principal, or some combination thereof, would interview each candidate and complete a form"rating sheet."

Clausell, Yankovich, and Principal Shroeder interviewed plaintiff for the high school assistant principal position, but the Board ultimately hired Israel Rodriguez effective July 1, 1997. At trial, Yankovich testified that he recommended Rodriguez for the position based upon Shroeder's recommendation. Yankovich explained as follows:

Q. Do you recall anything that led you to recommend him as the better candidate?

A. Mr. Schroeder's recommendation to me.

Q. You're saying it was Mr. Schroeder's --

A. Yeah.

Q. -- recommendation?

A. Yeah, I -- yeah, because, at that time, he felt he wanted a Hispanic male in there, in the assistant principal position.

Q. You're saying he said he wanted an Hispanic male?

A. Yeah, he says there's a need for a bilingual person in ...


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