On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-4417-04.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 31, 2007
Before Judges Axelrad, Payne and Messano.
Plaintiff Gail Fabrikant appeals from the July 10, 2006, order granting summary judgment to defendants Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. (Gallagher), John P. Woods Company (the Company), John P. Woods, Jr. (John Woods), and John P. Woods, III (Jay Woods), and dismissing plaintiff's complaint. She contends the "trial court overstepped its authority by making numerous findings of material fact where those facts were in clear dispute, and by resolving all inferences in favor of the moving party, instead of [her]."
In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we use the same standard employed by the trial court. Atlantic Mutual Ins. Co. v. Hillside Bottling Co., 387 N.J. Super. 224, 230 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 189 N.J. 104 (2006). We decide first whether there was a genuine issue of material fact; if not, we then decide "whether the motion judge's application of the law was correct." Id. at 230-31. We apply the standards articulated by the Supreme Court in Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995).
[A] determination whether there exists a "genuine issue" of material fact that precludes summary judgment requires the motion judge to consider whether the competent evidential materials presented, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, are sufficient to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the alleged disputed issue in favor of the non-moving party.
We must assume the non-moving party's version of the facts as true and give that party the benefit of all favorable inferences available in the record. Id. at 536.
In her complaint, plaintiff alleged: 1) defendants subjected her to a hostile work environment "[b]ased upon her . . . Jewish faith," in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 through -42 (the LAD); 2) retaliated against her because she engaged in protected activity under the LAD; and 3) that John Woods and Jay Woods aided and abetted Gallagher and the Company in its discriminatory conduct. She alleged that as a result of these discriminatory practices, she was terminated from her employment as a senior administrative officer with the company, and she sought compensatory and punitive damages, "appropriate equitable relief," reasonable attorney's fees, and costs.
The facts in the motion record viewed in a light most favorable to plaintiff disclose that the Company was a reinsurance brokerage firm located in Jersey City, New Jersey, and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gallagher, an insurance brokerage company with its principal place of business in Illinois. John Woods was the founder and chairman of the Company, and his son, Jay Woods, was its president.
On October 16, 2002, plaintiff was hired as vice-president and senior administrative officer and her official duties were to commence on January 1, 2003. Plaintiff was to be trained in the Company's procedures and policies for the remainder of the year by Josephine A. Hoey, who was retiring and to whose position plaintiff was succeeding. Plaintiff understood that as of January 1, 2003, she would assume responsibility for the Company's human resources department, other administrative functions, and liaison duties with Gallagher regarding human resource-related issues, and that she would be reporting directly to Jay Woods.
However, on her first day on the job, plaintiff was told by a co-worker that Hoey would remain working for the Company in a limited capacity on special projects after January 1. In depositions, plaintiff testified that she was "surprised" and "disappointed" to learn that Hoey was not leaving the company entirely as of the start of the new year.
Plaintiff believed Hoey was upset because she was taking over her position, and noted that Hoey "didn't make [the transition] easy." Plaintiff also believed that Hoey was not training her properly, and by mid-November 2002, the training stopped. When Hoey was on vacation during the Christmas holiday, plaintiff took all of the Company's human resource files out of Hoey's office and moved them to her own office, prompting Hoey to complain to Jay Woods that plaintiff had "stolen" the files.
Despite these tensions, plaintiff testified she had a great relationship with Hoey and John Woods. Woods himself, however, testified in his deposition that Hoey would complain to him at least once a week about plaintiff giving her a difficult time during the transition. Plaintiff maintained her relationship with John Woods was very positive during this time and she frequently had lunch with him and spoke to him regularly regarding work-related issues.
Plaintiff testified that a critical incident occurred on January 7, 2003, when Hoey came to her, unsolicited, and told her that John Woods "call[ed] blacks 'niggers' and [was] an anti-Semite who hate[d] Jews," and that he would not work with either African-Americans or Jews. Plaintiff claimed that she ...