Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Mancini v. Township of Teaneck

April 28, 2004

DIANE MANCINI, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT, AND LAUREN FLORIO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF TEANECK, TEANECK POLICE DEPARTMENT, DONALD GIANNONE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS CHIEF OF THE TEANECK POLICE DEPARTMENT AND WARREN WHITE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS CAPTAIN IN THE TEANECK POLICE DEPARTMENT, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS, AND JOHN DOES 1-5, DEFENDANTS.



On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 360 N.J. Super. 575 (2003).

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

In this employment discrimination case, the Court considers whether the Township of Teaneck, Teaneck Police Department and related defendants (collectively, Township) abandoned their laches defense against a continuing violation claim by Diane Mancini. The Court considers also whether the trial court properly admitted evidence concerning whether one of the individual defendants had harassed women other than Mancini.

In 1981, Mancini was hired as the Township's first female police officer. Contending that she was subjected to sexual harassment by her fellow officers from the time she was hired, Mancini filed an employment discrimination suit in 1996 alleging sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation in violation of the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress. Mancini included as defendants the police department, the township and two individual officers. By the time Mancini filed the complaint, one of the officers referenced in the complaint had retired and one had died.

In one of its evidentiary rulings, the trial court admitted evidence concerning whether one of the defendants had harassed women at the police department other than Mancini. The court made that ruling concerning the"other harassment" evidence even though Mancini did not witness the alleged harassment and was not aware of it when it occurred. The jury found for Mancini, awarding compensatory and punitive damages. The trial judge reduced the compensatory damages and vacated the punitive damages award.

On appeal, the Township raised several issues, including whether Mancini had presented sufficient proof to permit the jury to consider her continuing violation claim and whether the judge erred in admitting the other harassment evidence. The Appellate Division rejected those contentions and affirmed the trial court's reduction of compensatory damages but reinstated the punitive damages award. Mancini v. Twp. of Teaneck, 349 N.J. Super. 527 (2002)(Mancini I). Although in answering the complaint the Township had asserted the doctrine of laches as an affirmative defense, it did not explicitly raise that defense before either the trial court or the Appellate Division. As a result, neither court initially addressed the issue.

This Court granted the Township's petition for certification and summarily remanded the matter to the Appellate Division for reconsideration in light of the Court's new decision in Shepherd v. Hunterdon Developmental Center, 174 N.J. 1 (2002)(considering the timeliness of employment discrimination claims within the context of the continuing violation doctrine, an equitable exception to the statute of limitations). However, the remand order was general in nature and did not ask that the panel consider the laches defense, which the Township had raised in a letter to this Court filed subsequent to its petition. As a result, the Appellate Division's decision on remand did not address the laches question. Mancini, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Verniero

Argued January 5, 2004

In Shepherd v. Hunterdon Developmental Center, this Court considered the timeliness of certain employment-discrimination claims within the context of the continuing violation doctrine, an equitable exception to the statute of limitations. 174 N.J. 1 (2002). Within that same framework, we also confirmed that the defense of laches is available to a defendant when a plaintiff, in particular circumstances, "waits a considerable period before filing suit." Id. at 23. This case provides us with the opportunity to expand on that analysis. In so doing, we hold that, although laches might have been a legitimate defense, defendants abandoned it during this litigation's lengthy history. We thus affirm the Appellate Division's rejection of the defense. As for a remaining question concerning the trial court's admission of certain evidence described below, we also affirm.

I.

The facts of the case are well summarized in Mancini v. Township of Teaneck, 349 N.J. Super. 527 (App. Div. 2002) (Mancini I), and do not need to be repeated here. Suffice it to say that plaintiff Diane Mancini successfully argued to a jury that, as the first female police officer hired by the Teaneck Police Department (Department), she had been subjected to deplorable work conditions, which included acts of sexual harassment by many of her fellow officers. The improper treatment began in 1981, the year that she was hired, and continued over the ensuing years.

Plaintiff filed a multi-count complaint in 1996, alleging sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliation in violation of the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress. She included as defendants the Department, the Township of Teaneck, and two individual officers. By the time plaintiff had filed her complaint, one of her fellow officers referenced in that complaint had retired, and one officer had died.

The matter proceeded to trial. In one of its evidentiary rulings, the trial court admitted evidence concerning whether one of the defendants had harassed women at the Department other than plaintiff. The court made that ruling concerning the "other harassment" evidence, notwithstanding that "plaintiff did not witness this alleged harassment and was not aware of it when it occurred." Mancini I, supra, 349 N.J. Super. at 562.

The jury found for plaintiff, awarding $1 million in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. The trial court reduced the compensatory damages amount to $625,000 and vacated the punitive damages award in its entirety.

On appeal, defendants raised several issues. Most relevant for our purposes here, they challenged the trial court's determination that plaintiff had presented sufficient proof to permit the jury to consider her continuing violation claim. Defendants also argued that the trial court had erred in admitting the "other harassment" evidence. The Appellate Division rejected those contentions and affirmed the trial court's reduction of compensatory damages but reinstated the punitive damages award. Id. at 569. Although in answering the complaint defendants had asserted the doctrine of laches as an affirmative defense, they did not explicitly raise that defense before either the trial court or Appellate Division. As a result, neither court initially addressed the issue.

We granted defendants' petition for certification, 174 N.J. 359 (2002), and summarily remanded the matter to the Appellate Division for reconsideration of its judgment in view of our decision in Shepherd, which we decided after Mancini I. Our remand order was general in nature and did not specify laches as a subject for review. (Although defendants did not explicitly raise laches when they initially filed the petition, they did raise the subject in a subsequent letter to the Court. Under that circumstance, we will consider the issue as having been included in defendants' first petition.) On reconsideration, the Appellate Division affirmed its prior judgment but did not address the laches question. Mancini v. Township of Teaneck, 354 N.J. Super. 282 (2002) (Mancini II).

Defendants sought our review by filing a second petition for certification. We granted that petition, 175 N.J. 545 (2003), and again summarily remanded the matter to the Appellate Division. Unlike our first order, the second remand order was specific in nature, directing the court to reconsider "its judgment in the light of the arguments of the parties in respect of the defense of laches." Ibid.

The Appellate Division affirmed its original disposition, concluding that laches was not a bar to recovery for two reasons. First, the panel determined "that, at a minimum, defendants [had] abandoned the equitable defense of laches as asserted in their answer." Mancini v. Township of Teaneck, 360 N.J. Super. 575, 581 (App. Div. 2003) (Mancini III). Second, the court found that "[e]ven if this defense had not been abandoned or waived... on the merits it is not an applicable remedy in this case." Id. at 582. We granted ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.