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Clements v. Housing Authority of the Borough of Princeton & Scott Parsons

December 12, 2007

SHARON CLEMENTS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOUSING AUTHORITY OF THE BOROUGH OF PRINCETON & SCOTT PARSONS DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson, United States District Judge

[FOR PUBLICATION] [12, 15, 18, 19, 23]

OPINION

Presently before the Court is the Motion of Defendants, Housing Authority of the Borough of Princeton ("HAP") and Scott Parsons, for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff, Sharon Clements' claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), Title VII, and New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"). This Court finds that Plaintiff cannot meet the threshold requirement to bring suit under the ADA, FMLA, and Title VII because the HAP did not employ the requisite number of employees to trigger the applicability of these Acts. As a result, this Court dismisses all federal claims against Defendants and declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's NJLAD claims. Plaintiff may reassert the NJLAD claims in state court. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(d), the period of limitations shall be tolled for the time Plaintiff's NJLAD claims were pending with this Court and a period of 30 days after Plaintiff's NJLAD claims are dismissed unless State law provides for a longer tolling period.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 7th, 2006, Plaintiff filed a complaint in federal court alleging that she was wrongfully terminated by her employer, HAP, while out on a medical leave of absence which began in May 2004. Plaintiff claims that the HAP terminated her position for two unlawful reasons: first, because she was disabled and requested an extended medical leave to accommodate her injury; second, in retaliation for filing various complaints against the HAP alleging racial disparate treatment of co-workers as well as allegations of mismanagement and improprieties of federal U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") funds dispersed to Defendant HAP.

A. DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS

During June 2002, Plaintiff was hired by Defendant HAP to fill the newly created position of property manager. Pl.'s Fact Statement ¶ 22; Defs.' Fact Statement ¶ 22. She commenced her employment with the HAP on July 8, 2002. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶ 27; Def's Fact St. ¶ 27. In January 2004, Plaintiff underwent emergency surgery for a herniated disc and requested medical leave from Defendant Scott Parsons, the executive director of the HAP. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶ 35; Defs.' Fact St. ¶ 35. Parsons granted Plaintiff four weeks of paid medical leave. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶¶ 36-37; Defs.' Fact St. ¶¶ 36-37. Then on March 15, 2004, Plaintiff re-injured her back in a motor vehicle accident. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶ 39; Defs.' Fact St. ¶ 39. Plaintiff did not miss work immediately, however she was diagnosed by Dr. Bonafino, M.D. with cervical, thoracic and lumbar sprains. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶¶ 40-41; Defs.' Fact St. ¶¶ 40-41. Thereafter, Dr. Bonafino recommended that Plaintiff stop working and Plaintiff requested a medical leave of absence, which was granted by Parsons on May 1, 2004. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶¶ 42-43; Defs.' Fact St. ¶¶ 42-43. Plaintiff, who was terminated from employment while on medical leave, contends that she was terminated due to disability discrimination relating to her requests for extended medical leave.

B. RETALIATION CLAIMS

Plaintiff also contends that she was terminated in retaliation for having exercised her rights under the NJLAD and pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 2000e-3(a). Compl. ¶¶ 44, 51. Plaintiff lodged a complaint with the Princeton Human Services Department on or about April 15, 2004, alleging disparate racial treatment by Defendant Parsons against Plaintiff's co-workers. Compl. ¶ 12; see Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. X. Parsons testified that there was no racial bias or special treatment concerning Janelle Easterling, a Caucasian employee who Plaintiff alleged was treated more favorably than African American co-workers. Defs.' Fact St. ¶ 120; see Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. N, Ex. X. Plaintiff never complained to the HAP Board or Princeton's Human Services Department that Parsons had discriminated against her based on race. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶121; Defs.' Fact St. ¶121; see Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. N. Plaintiff also contacted HUD on or about April 21, 2004, alleging mismanagement and improprieties of federal HUD funds disbursed to Defendant HAP. Compl. ¶ 13; see Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. Y. However, Parsons testified that he had absolutely no knowledge of Plaintiff's HUD complaint until after Plaintiff's filing of the present law suit. Defs.' Fact St. ¶ 128; see Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. N.

C. HOUSING AUTHORITY'S ELIMINATION OF PROPERTY MANAGER POSITION

The HAP incurred a deficit of over $100,000 for the fiscal year of 2003 and an operating deficit of $72,795 in 2004. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶¶ 65-66; Defs.' Fact St. ¶¶ 65-66. The Board of the HAP began to discuss how to address the budget deficit in January or February 2004. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶ 68; Defs.' Fact St. ¶ 68. In connection with those discussions, Parsons drafted two budget proposals for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2005. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶ 72; Defs.' Fact St. ¶ 72. The first proposal provided for the retention of the property manager position, but reflected a deficit of $33,718. The second proposed budget eliminated the property manager position and resulted in an operating surplus. The HUD and the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs prohibit the HAP from adopting a budget that contains deficit spending. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶ 76; Defs.' Fact St. ¶ 76. Defendant Parsons recommended the elimination of the property manager position on or about May 14, 2004. Ultimately, on or about May 19, 2004, the Board of the HAP adopted the budget that provided for the elimination of the property manager position. Defs.' Fact St. ¶¶ 72-79. The elimination of Plaintiff's position was effective on June 30, 2004. Pl.'s Fact St. ¶ 93; Defs.' Fact St. ¶ 93).

D. NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES EMPLOYED AT THE HOUSING AUTHORITY

At the time Plaintiff's position was eliminated, the HAP alleges that it employed a total of 14 employees. Defs.' Fact St. ¶ 102; see Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex. V, W. Defendants contend that during 2003 and 2004 the HAP did not employ more than 14 employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks. Defs.' Fact St. ¶ 103. Defendants provided quarterly WR-30 forms entitled "Employer Report of Wages Paid," which were filed by the HAP with the State of New Jersey, Division of Revenue to set forth the total number of employees reported in each quarter. Defs.' Fact St. ¶ 103; see Defs.' Mot. Summ. J., Ex., V, W. These WR-30 Forms indicate that at no time during 2003 did the Housing Authority employ more than 14 employees for each working day in each of twenty 20 or more calendar weeks. Id. The WR-30 Forms for 2004 indicate that the only time the HAP employed more than 14 employees was during the third quarter of 2004; at such time the HAP employed 15 employees. Id.

Plaintiff contends that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding the number of employees that were employed at the HAP during the 2003 and 2004 time frame. In support, thereof, Plaintiff has provided two EEO-1 reports that were prepared by the HAP which reflect the number of employees that were employed during the 2003 and 2004 years. Pl.'s Resp. to Defs' Mot. Summ J., Ex. R, Ex. S. The EEO-1 reports in 2003 and 2004 both indicate that there were a total of 20 employees working at the HAP. Id. However, the EEO-1 reports only indicate the total number of different individuals who worked at the HAP over the course of the year and do not indicate the specific number of employees that were employed at any one time.

II. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

A party seeking summary judgment must "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Kreschollek v. S. Stevedoring Co., 223 F.3d 202, 204 (3d Cir. 2000). In deciding whether summary judgment should be granted, the Court considers "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits," Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), and construes all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002). The Court's function "at the summary judgment stage . . . 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). To ...


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