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King v. Cape May County Board of Freeholders

November 14, 2007

ANTOINETTE KING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAPE MAY COUNTY BOARD OF FREEHOLDERS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

[relates to Docket Items 50 and 51]

HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the motions for summary judgment by Defendants Gary Schaffer and the Board of Freeholders for Cape May County ("Defendants") who seek a legal determination that Plaintiff is not entitled to any economic damages even if she prevails in proving that they discriminated against her on the basis of age by causing her to withdraw from a police training program for Special Law Enforcement Officers ("SLEOs").

II. BACKGROUND

The Court has granted summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiff's gender discrimination claims but denied summary judgment on her claim that Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of age, in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, by causing her to quit the Special Law Enforcement Officer training program at the Cape May County Police Academy. At the time of her enrollment in the SLEO training program of the Cape May County Police Academy, Plaintiff was a full-time Educational Officer of the Bridgeton Board of Education, which paid her tuition to the Police Academy, and expected future employment with the Bridgeton Police Department, which allegedly sponsored her attendance at the Police Academy, but she did not have an appointment as a SLEO in that department.

In previous submissions, the parties have argued about whether the dismissal of Plaintiff from the Cape May Police Academy could have been justified on the ground that it was illegal for her to attend the Special Law Enforcement Officer training program in which she was enrolled. Because Defendants have never alleged they knew it was illegal for Plaintiff to attend the program before she left or that they were motivated by that fact when they allegedly forced her to leave, the Court has previously held that it did not need to resolve the issue. Whether or not it was legal for Plaintiff to attend this training program was not relevant to Defendants' intent and therefore not relevant to the previous motions for summary judgment regarding whether Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of age or gender.

The issue of the legality of Plaintiff's placement in the program arose again during a telephone scheduling conference with the parties on September 6, 2007. Pursuant to that conference, this Court entered an Order adjourning the trial date to permit motion practice "regarding the availability of damages (specifically, the type of jobs in law enforcement for which Plaintiff could have qualified had she successfully completed the Special Police Officer Program in which she had been enrolled in the Cape May County Police Academy)."

These motions followed and Defendants now argue that no damages are available to Plaintiff because the successful completion of the SLEO training program would not have made her eligible for additional jobs due to the fact that her enrollment in the program was not lawful. Plaintiff argues that her appointment to the training program was lawful and part of Defendants' regular course of dealing, and that had she completed it, she would have qualified to work as a SLEO with the Bridgeton Police Department, which would have supplemented her income. The deprivation of that supplement is one element of the economic damage for which she seeks compensation. Therefore, she argues against granting Defendants' motion for summary judgment on damages.

Defendants also seek a determination that they are not liable for any damages flowing from the loss of Plaintiff's full-time employment with the Bridgeton Board of Education because any inability to complete the SLEO training program in which she was enrolled at the Cape May Police Academy was unrelated to the loss of that Board of Education employment. The Court heard oral argument on November 9, 2007 and reserved decision.

Because it cannot be ruled out that Plaintiff would have been able to earn additional money as a SLEO had she successfully completed the training program, the Court shall deny Defendants' motion to preclude economic recovery on that claim. However, because it appears that Plaintiff's employment with the Bridgeton Board of Education ended for reasons unrelated to any alleged discrimination by Defendants, the Court shall grant summary judgment to preclude Plaintiff from seeking economic damages related to her termination from the Board of Education position.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable rule of law. Id. Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment. Id.*fn1

B. Whether New Jersey Law Prohibited Training Plaintiff

Defendants argue that they cannot be liable for economic harm flowing from any discrimination against Plaintiff during her training to be a Special Law Enforcement Officer ("SLEO") because she had not yet been appointed as a SLEO and it was not lawful for her to receive training prior to appointment. Plaintiff opposes, claiming there is no law prohibiting this practice and providing evidence that before and after her attendance at the Cape May Police Academy, Defendants trained individuals who expected to work as SLEOs prior to the commencement of their appointment as SLEOs. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, as required in this summary judgment motion, it appears that a reasonable jury could find that Plaintiff would have worked as a SLEO at the Bridgeton Municipal Police Department had she successfully completed her SLEO training at the Cape May Police Academy.

The New Jersey Special Law Enforcement Officers' Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. ยงยง 40A:14-146.8 to -146.18 ("the Act"), governs the training, hiring and placement of Special Law Enforcement Officers or SLEOs. Under the Act, "Special law enforcement officer" means any person appointed pursuant to this act to temporarily or intermittently perform duties similar to those performed regularly by members of a police force of a local unit, or to provide assistance to a police force ...


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