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ASHTON v. AT&T CORPORATION

September 21, 2005.

JANE ASHTON, Plaintiff,
v.
AT&T CORPORATION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENNIS CAVANAUGH, District Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court upon motion by AT&T Corporation ("Defendant"), for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on all counts of the Complaint filed by Jane Ashton ("Plaintiff"). No oral argument was heard pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff brought this action against Defendant, her former employer, under the New Jersey Jury Service Statute, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2B:20-1 et seq.; the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD"), N.J. Stat.Ann. § 10:5-2.1; the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101; and the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601. Plaintiff claims Defendant violated N.J.S.A. § 2B:20-17 by retaliating against her for serving as a juror. Plaintiff also alleges Defendant violated the NJLAD and the ADA by failing to provide a reasonable accommodation for her alleged mental disability and by subjecting her to disparate treatment. Finally, she claims Defendant violated the FMLA by retaliating against her for taking medical leave.

  Plaintiff began working for Defendant on March 17, 2002, and held a number of different positions during the term of her employment. (Defendant's Statement of Material Facts ("Def. R. 56.1 Stmt.") at 2). On January 1, 2002, she became a Customer Relations Specialist ("CRS"), which entailed assisting business clients. (Id.). In February 2002, Plaintiff's supervisor gave her a "Below Target" rating on her annual performance assessment. ("Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition ("Pl. Br."), at 2).

  From June 4, 2002, until August 4, 2002, Plaintiff took a short term disability leave due to mental impairments. (Id.) She continued to receive her usual salary during this period. (Defendant's Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment ("Def. Br."), at 8). In an attempt to ease her return to the workplace, Plaintiff requested she be allowed to work from home part time beginning August 5, 2002. (Pl. Br. at 3). Defendant granted the request and on August 8, 2002, Plaintiff began working full-time from home. (Id.) At the end of August, Plaintiff informed Defendant that she would like to continue working from home until October. (Def. Br. at 9). Defendant denied this request and told Plaintiff to return to the office by September 12, 2002, at which time both parties could engage in a discussion about other possible accommodations. (Def. Br. at 9-10). Plaintiff refused to return to work as requested and on September 11, 2002, she took another disability leave. (Pl. Br. at 4). On October 4, 2002, Metlife, Defendant's disability benefits provider, denied Plaintiff's application for short term disability benefits because her medical documentation did not support Plaintiff's disability claim. (Id. at 5). Once Defendant learned Metlife denied the disability claim, Plaintiff was told to return to work by October 25, 2002. (Def. Br. at 11-12). Plaintiff then informed Defendant she would not return to work on October 25 and that she would be taking the following week off as vacation. (Pl. Br. at 8). In response, Defendant gave Plaintiff two options: (1) return to work and discuss alternative accommodations besides working from home; or (2) take a sixty day leave of absence from her current job in order to seek another position at AT&T. (Id.) If Plaintiff failed to find another position during that time, she would be terminated at the end of the sixty days. (Def. Br. at 13). Plaintiff chose the latter option but failed to find another position during the sixty-day period. (Id. at 14). As a result, Plaintiff's employment was terminated on January 3, 2003. (Def. R. 56.1 Stmt. at 14).

  Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), claiming Defendant discriminated against her due to her disability in violation of the ADA. (Id.) The EEOC dismissed the Charge on April 30, 2003, after finding her allegations did not involve a disability covered by the ADA. (Id.) Plaintiff then filed a pro se Complaint before this Court on July 1, 2003.

  II. DISCUSSION

  A. Standard

  Summary judgment is granted only if all probative materials of record, viewed with all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of showing either (1) there is no genuine issue of fact and it must prevail as a matter of law; or (2) that the non-moving party has not shown facts relating to an essential element of the issue for which he bears the burden. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 331. If either showing is made then the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must demonstrate facts that support each element for which he bears the burden and must establish the existence of genuine issues of material fact. Id. The non-moving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading" to satisfy this burden, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e), but must produce sufficient evidence to support a jury verdict in his favor. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986).

  B. Plaintiff's Jury Service Claim

  N.J.S.A. § 2B:20-17 prohibits employers from taking adverse action against employees for performing jury service. If an employer does threaten or penalize an employee for partaking in this civic duty, the employee must commence an action against the employer regarding these acts "within 90 days from the date of the violation or the completion of jury service, whichever is later." N.J.S.A. § 2B:20-17(c).

  In this case, Plaintiff served as a grand juror in Essex County, New Jersey, during March through June of 2002. (Pl. Br. at 2). Her service required her to be absent from work every Friday during those months. (Def. Br. at 6-7). Plaintiff alleges Defendant penalized her for performing her jury service. (Id.) The Court does not have to consider the merits of this claim at this time because Plaintiff's claim under the statute is untimely. She completed jury duty on June 14, 2002, and the Defendant's termination of her employment became effective on January 3, 2003. (Id. at 16). In order for Plaintiff to have a timely claim under the statute, the latest date she could have commenced her action was April 3, 2003. Instead, Plaintiff did not file her Complaint until July 1, 2003, three months after the statute of limitations had run. In fact, Plaintiff's initial Complaint failed to even mention any cause of action under the jury service statute. It was not until she filed her Amended Complaint on November 17, 2003, more than seven months after the statute limitations had expired, that Plaintiff raised her first claim under the statute. Due to Plaintiff's failure to file a timely claim, her jury service claim is barred.

 
C. Plaintiff's Claim under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination
  The New Jersey LAD exists to ensure that all New Jersey citizens enjoy the civil rights guaranteed by the State Constitution, especially in the work place. N.J.S.A. § 10:5-2.1. Because the overarching goal of the LAD is to rid society of discrimination, the New Jersey Supreme Court has advised courts to liberally construe its provisions. Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, 160 N.J. 562 (1999). Although the LAD's protections have been broadly interpreted, the LAD does not prevent an employer from terminating or changing the employment ...

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