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CHRISTOPHER v. STATE

August 2, 2005.

SHAWNNA CHRISTOPHER, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, and DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KATHARINE HAYDEN, District Judge

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This case is unpublished as indicated by the issuing court.] OPINION

Pro se plaintiff Shawnna Christopher ("Plaintiff") filed this civil action in May 2003 against the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey Department of Human Services ("DHS"), Roman Lemega, and Darin Schiffman. The Complaint alleges that defendants terminated her employment at the Woodbridge Developmental Center ("WDC") on the basis of her race and gender in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). The Complaint alleges that defendants are liable for "hiring [her] for a high position then lowering position once employed," and for "requiring African Americans to have one year experience and not white employees." (Compl. ¶ 9.) It also claims that DHS does not hire African Americans for high positions and degrades females. (Compl. ¶ 10.) On August 14, 2004, the Court dismissed the claims against Lemega and Schiffman on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Currently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment filed by the remaining institutional defendants. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted. I. BACKGROUND

The facts are gleaned from the written submissions of the parties, along with the exhibits and declarations submitted for the Court's review.

  This lawsuit arises out of plaintiff's employment with DHS for approximately two months in 2002. On July 18, 2001, plaintiff applied for a position with DHS, and set forth in her employment application that she had a college degree from Kean University, but had no employment history since age 18. (3/16/04 Christopher Dep. at 100:14-21; Guz Decl., Employment Application, Exh. A.) In August 2001, plaintiff received a letter stating she had met the minimum requirements for the position of Senior Therapy Program Assistant ("STPA"), part-time. (Guz Decl., 8/21/01 Letter, Exh. B.) Plaintiff interviewed with Louis Arminio ("Arminio"), Staff Clinical Psychologist in the Psychology Department of DHS, on November 27, 2001 for a STPA position at WDC. (5/16/04 Christopher Dep. at 96:25-97:2; Guz Decl., Applicant Interview Summary, Exh. C.) After the interview, Arminio completed an "Applicant Interview Summary" and wrote that he would recommend plaintiff for a part-time Behavior Modification Program Technician ("BMPT") position or full-time STPA position and he would only consider plaintiff for a full-time BMPT position if the WDC was "needy" and there were no other STPA openings. (Guz Decl., Applicant Interview Summary, Exh. C.) He also wrote that her academics and experience were weak, but that she still might be a motivated and capable worker. Id.

  On December 7, 2001, plaintiff received a letter from Brenda Baxter, the Manager of Human Resources. Baxter wrote that based upon plaintiff's interview with the Director of Psychology at WDC, one Dr. Lemega ("Lemega"), DHS was offering her a position as a BMPT. (Guz Decl., 12/7/01 Letter, Exh. D.) This letter was facially wrong in two respects: plaintiff had actually interviewed with Arminio, and she sought and was interviewed for an STPA position.

  Defendants admit the letter was incorrect. (Guz Decl. ¶ 18.) Defendants also state that the BMPT position required one year of work experience in rehabilitation or therapeutic treatment for the mentally ill or developmentally disabled. (Lemega Decl. ¶ 14.)

  Notwithstanding Baxter's letter, DHS began preparing the paperwork for plaintiff's employment as a full-time STPA (the position she interviewed for), not as a BMPT. (Guz Decl., 3/5/02 Letter, Exh. E.) On March 5, 2002, Barbara Danku ("Danku"), a personnel assistant at DHS, sent plaintiff a letter congratulating her about her position as a full-time STPA and informing her of a required orientation class. Id.

  Plaintiff found out that the STPA position annually paid $7,000 less than the salary for a BMPT. (3/16/04 Christopher Dep. at 117:24-118:15.) While she was attending orientation during her first week of employment, she went to Human Resources and spoke to Beverly Guz ("Guz") regarding the "discrepancy" in the positions referred to in the two letters. (3/16/04 Christopher Dep. at 125:13-126:7.) After Guz said that she would look into things, plaintiff admitted at her deposition that she told Guz, "[Y]ou'll be sorry if you don't give me the BMPT position." (3/16/04 Christopher Dep. at 126:3-126:7.) Plaintiff said she did not "threaten" Guz, but meant she would fight for the position "union-wise." (3/16/04 Christopher Dep. at 126:8-126:13.)

  In the interim, Lemega was informed, erroneously, that plaintiff would start as a full-time BMPT in his department. (Lemega Decl., 3/8/02 Email, Exh. D.) In reviewing her application, Lemega saw that plaintiff did not have the requisite one year of work experience. Id. He emailed Danku, stating, "Confusion has set in, we got a call from your office that [plaintiff] is starting work . . . as a BMPT full timer. I checked interview application and she does not have th[e] one year requirement for BMPT. I will be happy to take her as a full time stpa/whatever you can do. We were also told that she was assigne[d] to position # 640335 which was last held by part timer . . . in a stpa-bm title." Id. Guz wrote back that "STPA is the title we have on record for [plaintiff]." Id.

  DHS allowed plaintiff to remain in the BMPT position. (Guz Decl., 3/18/02 Inter-Office Memorandum, Exh. F.) Defendants upgraded the offer from a part-time BMPT position (which plaintiff was originally offered) to a full-time BMPT position. Id. On March 11, 2002, plaintiff began working in Lemega's department under the supervision of Darin Schiffman ("Schiffman"). (Guz Decl. ¶ 20.) Within the first week, plaintiff received a memo confirming her position as a BMPT with a salary of $34,450.23. (Guz Decl., 3/18/02 Inter-Office Memorandum, Exh. F.) The memo also stated: "Please be advised that you are considered provisional in this position. You must file for and pass the Open Competitive examination for the title of Behavior Modification Program Therapist to achieve permanency. Without permanent status you may be displaced from this provisionally appointed position." Id. Plaintiff signed the memo. Id.

  Within the first week of employment, plaintiff asked for her hours to be changed. (3/16/04 Christopher Dep. at 165:11-166:20; Schiffman Decl. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff also asked for a transfer from her designated work location because she was not getting along with a co-worker, Tanya Townsend ("Townsend"). (5/19/04 Christopher Dep. at 43:23-44:10; Schiffman Decl. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff requested that her supervisor Schiffman contact Lemega regarding a transfer, but Schiffman refused, stating that she was "barking up the wrong tree." (Schiffman Decl. ¶ 24.) Schiffman stated in his Affidavit that he meant that approaching Lemega regarding a transfer was not the right way to solve any problems Christopher might have with her work. Id. Schiffman also stated that despite his attempts to explain the use of the phrase, plaintiff "became visibly angry and used profanity to express her anger." Id. Schiffman wrote in a memo to Lemega that he offered to help resolve plaintiff's problems, but she refused his help, becoming agitated, using profanities, and demanding that he speak with Lemega. (Schiffman Decl. ¶ 25; Schiffman Decl., 4/18/02 Memorandum, Exh. C.)

  Schiffman stated in his declaration that plaintiff did not complete her work in a timely fashion, and when reminded to turn in her assignments she would become hostile, angry and antagonistic. (Schiffman Decl. ¶¶ 12, 24, 27, 30.) Moreover, plaintiff "repeatedly demonstrated that she failed to properly comprehend her assignment; failed to complete assignments in a timely manner; and regrettably made the same or similar mistakes." (Schiffman Decl. ¶ 12.) Specifically, Schiffman stated that plaintiff never completed her orientation assignments, including a functional analysis, and failed to fill out her daily schedule although she was repeatedly told how to do so. (Schiffman Decl. ¶¶ 12-16.) According to Schiffman, plaintiff was often absent from her required work area, and often came late to department staff meetings or left them early. (Schiffman Decl. ¶¶ 18, 20.) In addition, Schiffman stated that plaintiff often behaved in an insubordinate and unprofessional manner. (Schiffman Decl. ¶ 27.) He specifically noted that plaintiff repeatedly photocopied payroll time sheets for her own records after being told that copies could be made only before Schiffman signed them. (Schiffman Decl. ¶ 28.) After the third time Schiffman told her this, she reacted in a hostile manner and accused him of slander. (Schiffman Decl. ¶ 29.) According to Schiffman, he tried to clarify his statement, but plaintiff responded by shouting, "I hope you don't walk away from everything in your life the way you are walking away from me." (Schiffman Decl. ¶¶ 30-31.) Schiffman informed his supervisor, Lemega, in writing about these incidents on April 17, 2002. (Schiffman Decl., 4/18/02 Memorandum, Exh. C.)

  Plaintiff testified about an incident on May 1, 2001, when Lemega saw her in the hallway at a time when she was supposed to be at a meeting, and asked her, "Don't you have someplace you're supposed to be?" Plaintiff responded "I'm on my way to a meeting," and Lemega stated, "Well, stop talking and get over there." (5/19/04 Christopher Dep. at 56:10-57:18.) Plaintiff testified that Lemega raised his voice, pointed his finger toward the meeting room, and treated her "like a child." (5/19/04 Christopher Dep. at 57:12-60:6.)

  The next day, on May 2, 2002, Lemega emailed Guz, stating that "[a]fter discussing Ms. Christopher's progress with her immediate supervisor, it was decided that she should be dismissed from state service." (Lemega Decl., 5/2/02 Email, Exh. H.) That same day, Human Resources sent a letter to plaintiff informing ...


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