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Rogers v. Alternative Resources Corp.

July 27, 2006

ELKANAH ROGERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALTERNATIVE RESOURCES CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irenas, Senior District Judge

OPINION

Plaintiff Elkanah Rogers ("Rogers") brought the instant action against his former employer, Defendant Alternative Resources Corporation ("ARC"), alleging discriminatory treatment, discriminatory termination and retaliatory termination, in violation of New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"). Presently before the Court is ARC's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I.

Rogers is a 54 year old African American male. He began working for ARC on July 1, 1997. ARC provides information technology management and staffing management services to its clients. Rogers was hired by ARC to work on its contract with Hewlett-Packard ("HP"), which required ARC to provide on-site technical support to HP customers across the country.

Rogers's official job title was Customer Engineer ("CE"). As a CE, Rogers was responsible for taking calls to service a variety of HP equipment. He was employed in ARC's Mid-Atlantic region, which encompassed New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. His primary service area was the Philadelphia metropolitan and southern New Jersey area.

On February 24, 2003, Rogers filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging unfair treatment in the workplace based on his race in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2. He contended that he received less training and was sent outside his commuting area more often than his white co-workers. On June 30, 2004, the EEOC issued a finding of no cause, and gave Rogers a right to sue letter. Rogers did not further pursue his Title VII claims.

In December, 2003, HP discontinued its contract with ARC. This triggered layoffs by ARC across the country, and particularly in the Mid-Atlantic region, where the company laid off all but two or three employees. These employees worked out of North and South Carolina and were retained for a period of several weeks only at HP's request. At the time of the layoffs, and Rogers' termination, he was the only employee reporting out of the southern New Jersey area.

Rogers filed his First Amended Complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Burlington County, on October 21, 2004. He alleges discrimination in the terms of his employment based on his race and age, discriminatory discharge on the basis of his race and age, and retaliatory discharge based upon his filing a complaint with the EEOC, in violation of NJLAD. ARC timely removed the case to the District of New Jersey.*fn1

II.

"Under Rule 56(c), summary judgment is proper 'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitles to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving part. Pollock v. Am. Tel & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The role of the Court is not "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). "[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 248 (internal quotation and citation omitted; ellipsis in original).

III.

The NJLAD provides that it is unlawful "[f]or an employer, because of the race . . . [or] age . . . of any individual . . . to refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge or require to retire, unless justified by lawful considerations other than age, from employment such individual or to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment . . . ." N.J.S.A. § 10:5-12(a). Furthermore, it is unlawful "[f]or any person to take reprisals against any person because that person has opposed any practices or acts forbidden under this act or because that person has filed a complaint, testified or assisted in any proceeding under this act . . . ." § 10:5-12(d).

When analyzing claims of employment discrimination under NJLAD based on circumstantial evidence, the Court must employ the McDonnell Douglas-Burdine burden shifting framework at the summary judgment stage. See Texas Dep't of Cmty. Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U.S. 248 (1981); McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973); Peper v. Princeton Univ. Bd. of Trustees, 77 N.J. 55, 82-83 (1978) (applying McDonnell Douglas-Burdine framework to NJLAD claims). This analysis consists of three steps.

First, the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case by a preponderance of the evidence. St. Mary's Honor Ctr. v. Hicks, 509 U.S. 502, 506 (1993). "The evidentiary burden at [the prima facie case] stage is rather modest: it is to demonstrate to the court that the plaintiff's factual scenario is compatible with discriminatory intent -- i.e., that discrimination could be a reason for the employer's action." Marzano v. Computer Sci. Corp. Inc., 91 F.3d 497, 508 (3d Cir. 1996). "Procedurally, courts have recognized that the prima facie case is to be evaluated solely on the basis of the evidence presented by the plaintiff, irrespective of defendant's efforts to dispute that evidence." Zive v. Stanley Roberts, Inc., 182 N.J. 436, 448 (2005). While a defendant may refute the plaintiff's allegations and evidence in the second step of the McDonnell Douglas-Burdine framework, the Court may consider only the evidence presented by the plaintiff when determining the existence of a prima facie case. Siegel v. Alpha Wire Corp., 894 F.2d 50, 54 (3d Cir. 1990) (stating defendant's arguments rebutting plaintiff's prima facie case belong in later stages of McDonnell Douglas and relying on plaintiff's evidence alone to find prima facie case satisfied).

The specific elements of the prima facie case will vary, depending on the type of discrimination alleged. See McDonnell Douglas, 411 U.S. at 802 n. 13 ("The facts necessarily will vary in Title VII cases, and the specification above of the prima facie proof required from respondent is not necessarily applicable in every respect to differing factual situations."); Burdine, 450 U.S. at 253-54 n. 6; Murphy v. Hous. Auth. & Urban Redevelopment Agency of Atlantic City, 32 F. Supp. 2d 753, 763-64 (D.N.J. 1999)(same reasoning for Title VII and NJLAD claims).

If a plaintiff succeeds in establishing his prima facie case, a presumption of discriminatory intent on the part of the defendant is created. Burdine, 450 U.S. at 254. The defendant must then produce evidence showing that it made the adverse employment decision "for a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason." Id. "To accomplish this, the defendant must clearly set forth, through the introduction of admissible evidence, the reasons for the plaintiff's rejection," id. at 255, which would support a jury finding that unlawful discrimination was not the cause of the adverse employment action. Hicks, 509 U.S. at 507. If the defendant comes forth with a legitimate reason for the employment action, the presumption of discrimination drops from the case, Burdine, 450 U.S. at 260, and the burden shifts to the plaintiff to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the stated reason was pretextual. Hicks, 509 U.S. at 508.

In Fuentes v. Perskie, the Third Circuit explained that "the plaintiff cannot simply show that the employer's decision was wrong or mistaken, since the factual dispute at issue is whether discriminatory animus motivated the employer, not whether the employer is wise, shrewd, prudent, or competent. Rather, the . . . plaintiff must demonstrate such weakness, implausibilities, inconsistencies, incoherencies, or contradictions in the employers'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." 32 F.3d 759, ...


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