United States District Court, D. New Jersey
June 3, 2005.
MARTHA GEANEY, Plaintiff,
COMPUTER SCIENCES CORPORATION, ROBERT FASSETT, GEORGE BACON, and EDWARD MELLO Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM BASSLER, District Judge
In 1999, Plaintiff Martha Geaney ("Plaintiff") began working as
an Account Executive for Computer Sciences Corporation ("CSC"), a
company that provides information technology services to private
companies and the federal government. In January 2003, after
Plaintiff failed to meet certain sales goals, CSC gave Plaintiff the option of participating in a performance
improvement plan ("PIP") or of accepting a severance package.
Plaintiff rejected both options and, on January 27, 2003, CSC
terminated Plaintiff's employment.
Plaintiff thereafter sued CSC and three members of CSC's
management team, Robert Fassett, George Bacon, and Edward Mello,
in New Jersey Superior Court, Passaic County, alleging: (1)
breach of contract; (2) sex discrimination in violation of the
New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"); (3) violation of
a non-compete agreement; and (4) fraud. On June 19, 2003, CSC and
the individual defendants removed the case to federal district
court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.*fn1
The parties completed discovery in May 2004, including
depositions. By Stipulation dated June 28, 2004, Plaintiff
voluntarily dismissed the fraud claim and the claim relating to
the non-compete agreement. Plaintiff also voluntarily dismissed
the Complaint as to defendants Bacon and Mello.
The remaining defendants, CSC and Fassett (collectively,
"Defendants"), now move for summary judgment on the sex
discrimination and breach of contract claims. For the reasons set
forth in this Opinion, Defendants' motion is granted with respect
to the sex discrimination claim and denied with respect to the
breach of contract claim. I. SEX DISCRIMINATION CLAIM
In April 1999, Plaintiff began working for CSC as an Account
Executive, starting at an annual salary of $195,000 plus bonuses.
(Pl. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 6.) Plaintiff worked primarily out of
CSC's office in West Orange, New Jersey. (Fassett 5/12/04 Dep. at
18.) As an Account Executive, Plaintiff was responsible for
selling CSC's computer consulting services to potential clients.
(Geaney 1/14/04 Dep. at 125.)
In March 2002, CSC reorganized its practice groups and
Plaintiff was assigned to the Diversified Industries and Consumer
Products Practice Group for the New York metropolitan area
("Diversified Group"). (Geaney 1/14/04 Dep. at 130.) As a result
of the reorganization, Robert Fassett became Plaintiff's
supervisor. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that while she was under his
supervision, Fassett discriminated against her on the basis of
her sex.*fn3 Initially, Plaintiff was one of three Account Executives
assigned to the Diversified Group the other two were Roger Doty
and Stephen Georghakis. (Fassett 5/12/04 Dep. at 16-17; 50.) By
mid-2002, both Doty and Georghakis had left the Diversified Group
Doty was transferred to another position within CSC and
Georghakis was terminated after failing to successfully complete
a PIP. (Id.) Plaintiff was then the only Account Executive
assigned to the Diversified Group until August 2002, when Fassett
hired four new Account Executives Robert Newman, David Jewell,
Michael Orozco, and Rick Kilcoyne. (Id. at 28.) During the
entire period that Plaintiff was assigned to the Diversified
Group she was the only female Account Executive assigned to it.
B. Plaintiff's Termination
On January 9, 2003, Fassett met with Plaintiff to discuss
Plaintiff's interim performance evaluation for the six-month
period from April 2002 through October 2002 ("Interim
Evaluation"). The Interim Evaluation showed that Plaintiff was
well below targeted revenue and profit goals. (Pl. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 95; Ward Cert., Exh. I.) According to Defendants,
because of Plaintiff's "poor sales performance," Fassett gave
Plaintiff two options: she could either participate in a PIP,
with no option for severance pay if she did not successfully
complete the PIP, or she could accept immediate termination with
severance pay. (Pl. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 98; Def. Rule 56.1
Statement ¶ 19.) Defendants contend, and Plaintiff disputes, that
Fassett's conduct was consistent with CSC policy. (Id. at ¶
On January 10, 2003, Plaintiff informed Fassett that she was
interested in the severance package. (Geaney 1/14/04 Dep. at
170.) Five days later, on January 15, Fassett e-mailed Plaintiff
the details of CSC's severance offer ("Severance Agreement").
(Id. at 174-76.) The Severance Agreement consisted of nine
weeks salary, or $34,085.77, and imposed on Plaintiff a number of
terms and conditions, including a strict covenant not to compete.
(Id. at 174-78.)
After consulting with an attorney, Plaintiff decided that the
Severance Agreement was unacceptable. (Id.) Accordingly, on
January 17, Plaintiff left Fassett a voice message stating that
she was unwilling to sign the Severance Agreement, and that she
was interested in negotiating a different severance package.
(Id. at 177.)
Plaintiff was out of the office from January 18 through January
26, 2003 because of a pre-approved vacation. (Pl. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 106.) On January 27, the date Plaintiff was
scheduled to return to work, Fassett left Plaintiff a voice
message instructing Plaintiff to come into the office immediately
in order to sign a PIP. (Geaney 1/14/04 Dep. at 182-83.)
Plaintiff did not meet with Fassett on that day because of
several previously scheduled business and personal appointments.
(Id. at 188.) Plaintiff was out of the office again on January
29. This time, George Bacon, Fassett's supervisor and a CSC
Managing Director, called Plaintiff at home to discuss
Plaintiff's employment status. Plaintiff repeated to Bacon that
the terms of the Severance Agreement were unacceptable, and that
she was unwilling to sign a PIP. (Id. at 189-90.)
By letter dated January 29, 2003, CSC formally terminated
Plaintiff's employment. (Cahoon Aff. Exh. L.) The letter, signed
by CSC's Human Resources Manager, stated, in relevant part:
This is to advise you that your employment with CSC
Consulting, Inc. (CSC) will be terminated effective
Friday, January 31, 2003, due to abandonment of your
position. You advised CSC management to contact your
attorney Bill Smith to discuss your employment
Mr. Smith stated to Ward Classen, CSC's Legal
Counsel, that you did not accept CSC's offer of a
buy-out package, that you would not agree to be
placed on a Performance Improvement Plan ("PIP") and
that you would not be returning to work. As such, you
have been placed in an unapproved/unpaid status of
absence without approved leave since Tuesday, January
28th. (Id.) Plaintiff thereafter filed suit.
Plaintiff vigorously disputes Defendants' claim that she was
terminated because of poor sales performance and because she
refused to accept either a PIP or the Severance Agreement.
Instead, Plaintiff argues that Fassett took adverse employment
action against her because she is female.
C. Legal Analysis
In an employment discrimination case such as this one, the
district court's task at the summary judgment stage is to
"determine whether, upon viewing all of the facts and reasonable
inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to
the plaintiff, there exists sufficient evidence to create a
genuine issue of material fact as to whether the employer
intentionally discriminated against the plaintiff." Hankins v.
Temple Univ. Health Sci. Ctr., 829 F.2d 437, 440 (3d Cir. 1987).
In doing so, the Court must apply the now familiar McDonnell
Douglas-Burdine burden-shifting analysis. See Texas Dept. of
Comm. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981);
McDonnell-Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973); see
also Murphy v. Hous. Auth. & Urban Redev. Agency of the City
of Atlantic City, 32 F. Supp. 2d 753, 763 (D.N.J. 1999) (noting
that the McDonnell Douglas framework "applies to both Title VII
and NJLAD claims for employment discrimination").
First, the plaintiff has the burden of proving by a
preponderance of the evidence a prima facie case of discrimination. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253. Second, if the
plaintiff succeeds in proving the prima facie case, then the
burden shifts to the defendant to articulate some legitimate
nondiscriminatory reason for the adverse employment action. Id.
Third, if the defendant carries its burden, the plaintiff then
has the opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence
that the legitimate reasons offered by the defendant are
pretextual. Id. In this case, all three elements of the
McDonnell Douglas-Burdine test weigh in favor of granting
Defendants' motion for summary judgment.
1. Plaintiff's prima facie case
To establish a prima facie case of sex discrimination,
Plaintiff must show that: (1) she is a member of a protected
class; (2) she was qualified for the job; (3) she was negatively
affected by the Defendants' employment decisions; and (4) she was
treated less favorably than employees not within the protected
class. Hankins, 829 F.2d at 440; Murphy,
32 F. Supp. 2d at 763. As the Supreme Court has explained, "[t]he prima facie case
serves an important function in the litigation: it eliminates the
most common nondiscriminatory reasons" for the adverse employment
action. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253-54.
Mindful that the "plaintiff's burden of presenting a prima
facie case is not intended to be an onerous one," Edwards v.
Schlumberger-Wells Svcs., 984 F.Supp. 264, 278 (D.N.J. 1997),
the Court nevertheless finds that Plaintiff cannot establish a prima
facie case of sex discrimination because the record simply does
not show that Fassett treated similarly situated male Account
Executives more favorably than he treated Plaintiff.*fn4
The undisputed record shows that Fassett gave at least three
male Account Executives under his supervision the option of
participating in a PIP or of accepting a severance package when
they failed to meet sales goals: (1) Steve Georghakis in March
2002; (2) Robert Newman in December 2002; and (3) Michael Orozco
in June 2003. Each of these three Account Executives chose one of
the options presented to them: (1) Georghakis accepted the PIP,
failed to successfully complete it, and was consequently
terminated on June 25, 2002; (2) Newman accepted the severance
package in December 2002 and was thereafter terminated; and (3)
Orozco was placed on a PIP, successfully completed the PIP, and
remained a CSC Account Executive. (Fassett Aff. ¶¶ 6-11.)
The fact that these three similarly situated male Account
Executives received the same treatment that Plaintiff received
drastically undermines Plaintiff's sex discrimination claim.
See e.g. Simpson v. Kay Jewelers, 142 F.3d 639, 646 (3d Cir.
1998) (A plaintiff cannot "completely ignore a significant group
of comparators who were treated equally or less favorably than
Moreover, Plaintiff's argument that three other similarly
situated male Account Executives "were allowed the option of
transferring to other positions within CSC when they received
poor evaluations" is unsupported by the record: (1) there is no
evidence that Roger Doty's transfer to an Account Manager
position had anything to do with his sales performance; (2)
Joseph Loehle was a Practice Director, and not an Account
Executive, when he transferred to another position within CSC;
and (3) Plaintiff does not point to any evidence showing that
Steven Georghakis was ever given the option of transferring to
another position within CSC.*fn5 (Fassett 5/12/04 Dep. at
29-30; Geaney 5/4/04 Dep. at 70-73.) Plaintiff's reliance on
these three individuals is therefore misplaced. As the Sixth
Circuit Court of Appeals has explained:
to be deemed `similarly-situated,' the individuals with whom the plaintiff seeks to compare
his/her treatment must have dealt with the same
supervisor, have been subject to the same standards
and have engaged in the same conduct without such
differentiating or mitigating circumstances that
would distinguish their conduct or the employer's
treatment of them for it.
Mitchell v. Toledo Hosp., 964 F.2d 577, 583 (6th Cir. 1992);
see also Shumway v. United Parcel Svc., Inc., 118 F.3d 60,
64 (2d Cir. 1997) ("the individuals with whom [plaintiff]
attempts to compare herself must be similarly situated in all
The lack of evidence supporting Plaintiff's claim that Fassett
treated similarly situated male Account Executives more favorably
gives the Court ample reason to grant Defendants' motion for
summary judgment. The Court also finds, however, that even if
Plaintiff could establish a prima facie case, summary judgment is
appropriate because Plaintiff fails to rebut Defendants'
legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for the adverse employment
2. Defendants' Legitimate Nondiscriminatory Justification for
the Adverse Employment Action
Once a plaintiff has established a prima facie case of sex
discrimination, the burden shifts to the defendant to rebut the presumption by producing evidence that the adverse employment
action was taken for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason.
Burdine, 450 U.S. at 255. The defendant does not need to
persuade the court that it was actually motivated by the
proffered reason. Id.; see also Fuentes v. Perskie,
32 F.3d 759, 763 (3d Cir. 1994) (describing the defendant's burden
as "relatively light"). Rather, the defendant is simply required
to "clearly set forth, through the introduction of admissible
evidence, reasons for its actions, which, if believed by the
trier of fact, would support a finding that unlawful
discrimination was not the cause of the employment action." St.
Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 507 (1993) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted) (emphasis in the
original). Here, Defendants argue that Plaintiff was given the
option of participating in a PIP or of taking a severance package
because she failed to meet her revenue and profit goals for the
first and second quarters of fiscal year 2003. (Def. Br. 6.) The
Court finds that Defendants' argument is amply supported by the
Plaintiff's Interim Evaluation for fiscal year 2003, shows that
Plaintiff was well below targeted sales goals for the first and
second quarters of 2003. Specifically, a section of the
evaluation entitled "Key Result Areas (KRAs) and Job Objectives
Evaluation," shows that although Plaintiff's 2003 quarterly revenue target was $1.25 million, Plaintiff generated only
$1,250 in revenue in the first quarter of fiscal year 2003 and
zero dollars in revenue in the second quarter. Likewise,
although Plaintiff's 2003 quarterly gross profit goal was
$575,000, Plaintiff generated only $500 in gross profit in the
first quarter of fiscal year 2003 and zero dollars in the
second quarter. Not surprisingly, Plaintiff was rated "below
expectations" in the area of "customer impact/value added." (Ward
Cert., Exh. I.) Fassett states in the evaluation:
The two major expectations of a Account Executive is
to generate revenue for CSC by selling profitable
1. Performance on the generate revenue expectations
Martha is performing at a 0% of the expectations;
2. performance on the generate gross profits
expectations Martha is performing at a 0% of the
(Id.) In light of this record, the Court has little difficulty
finding that Defendants meet their burden of production.
3. Plaintiff's Pretext Argument
Plaintiff may defeat Defendants' motion for summary judgment by
either: (1) discrediting the proffered reasons, either
circumstantially or directly; or (2) adducing evidence that
discrimination was more likely than not a motivating or
determinative cause of the adverse employment action. Fuentes,
32 F.3d at 761-62. Here, Plaintiff fails to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to either ground.
a) Credibility of Defendants' proffered justification
In order to discredit the employer's proffered justification,
Plaintiff cannot simply show that the employer's decision was
wrong or mistaken. Id. at 765. Rather, Plaintiff "must
demonstrate such weaknesses, implausibilities, inconsistencies,
incoherencies, or contradictions in the employer's proffered
legitimate reasons for its action that a reasonable factfinder
could rationally find them unworthy of credence and hence infer
that the employer did not act for the asserted nondiscriminatory
reasons." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
"While this standard places a difficult burden on the plaintiff,
it arises from an inherent tension between the goal of all
discrimination law and our society's commitment to free
decisionmaking by the private sector in economic affairs." Id.
In this case, the Court finds that Plaintiff woefully fails to
meet her burden.
First, Plaintiff states that her "job performance was always
outstanding." (Pl. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 52.) In support of her
argument, Plaintiff points to: (1) the positive ratings and
comments that she received in each of her performance
evaluations; (2) the positive statements of a former CSC Practice
Manager, Judith Rothrock; and (3) several documents showing that
Plaintiff's earnings figures for fiscal 2001 through 2003 were equal to or better than other Account Executives at CSC. In
addition, Plaintiff relies on her own sworn Certification in
which she states: "I consistently exceeded objectives for
marketing campaigns, cold and warm calling, and obtaining
meetings with target clients at senior levels . . . I
consistently received compliments from my clients on the quality
of my work." (Geaney Cert. ¶ 42.)
The Court agrees with Plaintiff that the record does in fact
show that Plaintiff performed extremely well in numerous aspects
of her job. For example, in her performance evaluation for 2001,
Plaintiff received high ratings in the categories of "timeliness
of delivery," "quality of work output," "independent work
ability," and "work habits." In addition, Plaintiff received a
number of positive comments, including:
"Martha produces high quality proposals, client
presentations, and work products . . ."
"Martha is attentive to meeting reporting deadlines
on time, and she reacts quickly to changes in
direction from management."
"Martha is adept at mobilizing teams to support
opportunity pursuits and proposal efforts . . ."
Martha is collaborative and involves others
appropriately in the sales process."
(Cahoon Aff., Exh. C) Unfortunately for Plaintiff, evidence of
her high performance in areas other than her ability to generate
revenue does nothing to further her argument. As the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has explained, "[p]retext
is not established by virtue of the fact that an employee has
received some favorable comments in some categories or has, in
the past, received some good evaluations. See Ezold v. Wolf,
Block, Schorr & Solis-Cohen, 983 F.2d 509
, 528 (3d Cir. 1992).
Instead, the focus at the pretext stage of the analysis "is on
the particular criteria or qualifications identified by the
employer as the reasons for the adverse action." Simpson,
142 F.3d at 647. In this case, therefore, the issue is whether
Plaintiff met her 2003 sales goals and not, as Plaintiff would
have it, on her overall job performance or qualifications.
Although the Court is certainly sympathetic to Plaintiff's
claim that "[her] inability to meet [her] objectives was caused
by factors beyond [her] control," that argument is not relevant
to the Court's analysis. (See Pl. Cert. ¶ 41.) "[T]he factual
dispute at issue is whether discriminatory animus motivated the
employer, not whether the employer is wise, shrewd, prudent, or
competent." Fuentes, 32 F.3d at 765. In other words, [c]ourts
are not permitted to second-guess performance standards or to
make personnel decisions for employers." Ditzel v. Univ. of
Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, 962 F.Supp. 595, 604 (D.N.J.
1997) (internal quotation marks omitted).*fn7 b) Evidence that discrimination was more likely than not a
motivating or determinative factor
To show that discrimination was more likely than not a cause of
the employer's action, the plaintiff must point to evidence with
sufficient probative force that a factfinder could conclude by a
preponderance of the evidence that gender was a motivating or
determinative factor in the employment decision. See Simpson,
142 F.3d at 644-45. For example, the plaintiff may point to
evidence showing that the employer: (1) previously discriminated
against her; (2) discriminated against other persons within the
plaintiff's protected class or within another protected class; or
(3) treated more favorably similarly situated persons not within
the protected class. Id. Here, the facts relied upon by
Plaintiff are either contradicted by the record or are of dubious
Plaintiff's Client List
Before Plaintiff was assigned to the Diversified Group,
Plaintiff worked under the supervision of CSC Practice Manager
Joseph Loehle. Loehle had assigned Plaintiff a target list of
approximately 100 potential clients. After Loehle's practice
group was disbanded and Plaintiff was reassigned to the
Diversified Group, Fassett transferred several of the clients
that were previously on Plaintiff's target list to the newly
hired male Account Executives. Plaintiff argues that Fassett
deliberately transferred "productive accounts" away from Plaintiff and to her male counterparts. At her deposition,
however, Plaintiff admits that she did not have any concrete
opportunities lined up with any of potential clients that were
transferred. (Geaney 5/4/04 Dep. at 108-10.)
Plaintiff states that Fassett did not allow her to attend a
"Pioneer Training" class because "she could not attend every day
of the training." (Pl. Br. 32.) Instead, Fassett instructed
Plaintiff to attend another, allegedly inferior, training class.
(Id. 33.) Plaintiff argues that Fassett treated three male
Account Executives more favorably because, in comparison to
Plaintiff, Fassett "insisted that [male Account Executives]
attend the training despite their schedules." (Pl. Br. at 32-33.)
CSC's Business Culture
Plaintiff claims that Fassett excluded her from CSC's "business
culture" by assigning her a larger number of "cold calls" than
male Account Executives. (Id. at 34.) Plaintiff concedes,
however, that various people were responsible for assigning her
cold calls. (Geaney 5/4/04 Dep. at 96-99.)
Plaintiff also claims that she was not permitted to interview
new Account Executives even though at least one male Account
Executive, David Jewell, helped to interview Michael Orozco and
Robert Newman for Account Executive positions. Plaintiff's claim
is, however, flatly contradicted by her deposition testimony in which she states that she is "aware of
the fact that Mike Orozco and Bob Newman had already accepted
offers from CSC before David Jewell began his employment."
(Geaney 5/4/04 Dep. at 63.)
Plaintiff also claims that Fassett failed to attend sales
meetings with Plaintiff's potential clients, despite the fact
that he attended similar meetings set up by male Account
Executives. (Pl. Br. 34-35.) There is no evidence in the record
to support or refute Plaintiff's allegation.
Plaintiff argues that she was denied tuition reimbursement
benefits whereas at least three CSC Account Executives, two male
and one female, received such reimbursements. (Geaney 5/4/04 Dep.
at 11-16.) Plaintiff admits that, unlike Plaintiff, two of the
Account Executives who received tuition reimbursement had
submitted application forms to CSC in accordance with the
procedures set forth in the Employee Handbook.
Plaintiff claims that on one occasion Fassett publicly
humiliated her by "gesturing she had body odor and sniffing under
his arms." (Pl. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 93.)
The Court concludes that none of the facts set forth above,
whether viewed individually or as a whole, raises an inference of
discrimination. Compare e.g. Cinelli v. U.S. Energy
Partners, 77 F. Supp. 2d 566, 578 (D.N.J. 1999) (finding a genuine issue of
material fact where employer's justification for termination was
poor sales performance and plaintiff's sales figures increased
during the relevant time period). Plaintiff's conclusory
allegations of discrimination are simply insufficient to rebut
Defendants' legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for the adverse
employment action. See e.g. Billet v. Cigna Corp.,
940 F.2d 812, 816 (3d Cir. 1991) ("Merely reciting that age was the reason
for the decision does not make it so."). Consequently, summary
judgment in favor of Defendants is appropriate.
II. BREACH OF CONTRACT CLAIM
CSC maintains an "Educational Assistance Program" ("Tuition
Reimbursement Program") through which employees are reimbursed
for eligible tuition expenses. The details of the Tuition
Reimbursement Program are set forth in CSC's Employee Handbook
The Handbook provides that: "[a]ll regular and full-time
employees employed with CSC on the date the course begins and
ends are eligible for educational assistance benefits." (Ward.
Cert., Exh. E.) The Handbook explains:
Tuition and certain registration and laboratory fees
are reimbursed in full upon successful completion of
a course sponsored by an accredited
college/university . . . The course need not be
directly related to your present job or function.
However, the completion of the course should, in the
opinion of your supervisor, significantly enhance your present or future job performance at
(Id.) The Handbook further states: "[a]pproval must be obtained
prior to registration. Application forms are available from your
Human Resources representative." (Id.)
It is undisputed by the parties that CSC employees are
typically required to submit an online application form to Human
Resources prior to enrollment in a course for which they seek
reimbursement. It is also undisputed that Plaintiff did not
submit a written application for tuition reimbursement until
after Plaintiff had either already completed or commenced the
courses for which she sought reimbursement. What is disputed is
whether Defendants made an unconditional oral promise to
Plaintiff to reimburse her for tuition expenses, regardless of
whether Plaintiff followed the procedures set forth in the
A. Defendants Alleged Oral Promise of Tuition Reimbursement
Around the time that Plaintiff interviewed with CSC for the
Account Executive position, Plaintiff began a doctoral program in
business and technology. Plaintiff claims that in order to "induce" her to repudiate her prior acceptance of a competing job
offer, James Labick and Judith Rothrock, the two members of CSC's
management who interviewed Plaintiff for the Account Executive
position, "promised that CSC would pay for her doctoral program."
(Pl. Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 12.) Plaintiff claims that neither
Labick nor Rothrock "ever told [her] that there were limitations
or prerequisites to their promise." (Id. at ¶ 14.)
In support of her claim, Plaintiff points to her own deposition
testimony and to the Certification filed by Judith Rothrock. The
following excerpts of Plaintiff's deposition testimony are
Q. When Mr. Labick told you that tuition
reimbursement was part of the benefits, did you
discuss tuition reimbursement in any further detail?
A. No, no. Other than, you know, that I would have
support for tuition reimbursement because it was a
benefit provided to employees.
Q. At the interview, did you ask him how tuition
reimbursement worked at CSC?
A. No. (Geaney 1/14/04 Dep. at 46-47.)
A. . . . I had attended seminars in which CSC paid
for some of the travel to those seminars. I had
written a paper that was selected for presentation at
an international telecommunications union in
Switzerland. CSC, we put CSC's letterhead on that
paper. So I went as representative of the company,
and there was a paper that I had written as part of
my program, my doctoral program. So it was openly
discussed. Everyone knew that I was going to get the
tuition reimbursement. (Id. at 61-62).
Q. Let's start at your first interview. What did you
discuss with Ms. Rothrock regarding tuition
A. We discussed that I was just beginning a doctoral
program, that [wherever] I was going to go and work . . .
I was interested in tuition reimbursement. I was
told that . . . tuition reimbursement would be made
available to me, that it was one of the employees'
benefits to people who worked in the company.
Q. Ms. Rothrock told you that?
Q. Did you ask her any detailed questions about the
procedure of receiving . . .
A. No, no.
(Id. at 63-64.)
Q. You testified that you did not [follow the
procedures in the Employee Handbook], is that
A. I had already received a verbal commitment from
Jim Labick and from Judith Rothrock that there was
approval for the course that I was taking and for my
program. So, no, I didn't do that, but I did approach
them, and they had approved it.
(Id. at 70.)
In addition, Rothrock states in her Certification:
. . . [Jim Labick and I] promised [Plaintiff] tuition
expenses would be reimbursed by CSC. . . . I did not
mention the actual procedures involved in the tuition
reimbursement policy, or mention that there were caps
on the amount that could be reimbursed each year.
(Id. ¶ 8.) . . . I had no idea there were any caps or
limitations on, or prerequisites to our promise. I do
not know now, nor did I ever know, of any policy
specifics, as set forth in CSC's handbook(s), that
would have been impediments to reimbursing Martha the
whole amount of her tuition as we had promised her on behalf of the company.
(Rothrock Cert. ¶¶ 8-9.)
In Defendants' view, Plaintiff's deposition testimony is not
only inadequate to support the conclusion that Defendants made
Plaintiff an unconditional promise to reimburse her for tuition
benefits, but it also constitutes a "judicial admission" that
Plaintiff knew that in order to obtain reimbursement she had to
submit a written application in accordance with the Handbook.
(Def. Reply Br. 4-5.) For example, Defendants point to the
following exchange between Plaintiff and defense counsel:
Q. When Mr. Labick told you that tuition
reimbursement is a benefit which CSC provides, did
you think that you were just going to automatically
get tuition reimbursement, without following company
A. No, I never thought that I would not follow
Q. So in Exhibit 3 when it states that you should
submit a completed tuition reimbursement request form
. . . why did you think that you didn't have to do
A. I'm not saying that I didn't think I had to do
that. When I interviewed, I made it clear that I was
in a graduate program. The people that I interviewed
with told me that I would get tuition reimbursement . . .
they never told me that I had to complete a form
first. They never told me that.
(Geaney 1/14/04 Dep. at 71-72.) Plaintiff's testimony may very
well be characterized as contradictory, if not purposefully
evasive. That does not mean, however, that it constitutes an
unambiguous admission by Plaintiff that she knew that she had to submit a written application for tuition reimbursement or forfeit
her right reimbursement.
Rather, noting that "[t]he legitimacy of the representations
and the reasonableness of the employee's reliance are questions
for the finder of fact that are not appropriate for summary
judgment" Labus v. Navistar Int'l Transp. Corp.,
740 F.Supp. 1053, 1063 (D.N.J. 1990), the Court finds that the evidence
contained in the record raises an issue of material fact as to
whether Defendants made an unconditional promise to Plaintiff to
reimburse her for her doctoral program. Accordingly, summary
judgment in favor of Defendants on the breach of contract claim
For the reasons set forth in this Opinion, Defendants' motion
for summary judgment is granted with respect to Plaintiff's sex
discrimination claim and is denied with respect to Plaintiff's
breach of contract claim. An appropriate Order follows.