On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-6205-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Winkelstein, Yannotti and LeWinn.
On November 5, 2003, plaintiff Deborah A. Scheers filed a ten-count complaint against defendants Rite Aid Corporation and Joseph Supino asserting various causes of action. On May 14, 2004, the trial court entered an order dismissing counts one through seven. On June 25, 2004, the court entered an order denying plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. Plaintiff's remaining claims for sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and sexual assault and battery were tried to a jury, which returned a verdict of no cause for action. Plaintiff appeals from the orders entered on May 14, 2004 and June 25, 2004, as well as the final judgment entered on November 7, 2006. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
We briefly summarize some of the evidence presented at trial. Plaintiff began working for Rite Aid in July 2000. At the time, plaintiff's sister-in-law, Denise Joseph, was one of Rite Aid's district managers. Joseph offered plaintiff a job based on plaintiff's prior experience in merchandising. Plaintiff's responsibilities at Rite Aid included traveling to various Rite Aid stores, setting up promotional and holiday displays, and assisting with inventory.
Prior to working at Rite Aid, plaintiff had been employed as a clerk by Super G, Inc. In March 1998, while working at a Super G store, plaintiff fell off of a ladder and injured her lower back. Plaintiff testified that in March 2000, she "started hurting real bad[.]" On November 10, 2000, she filed a claim for workmen's compensation benefits. Plaintiff filed two additional workmen's compensation claims on November 27, 2000. In the first claim, she alleged that while working at Super G, in the period from March 1998 to June 2000, she had aggravated her back injury as a result of repeated "bending, stooping, lifting and carrying[.]" In the second claim, plaintiff alleged that she sustained an injury at Super G in March 2000 "while bagging groceries and lifting grocery bags[.]"
In July 2000, before beginning her employment with Rite Aid, plaintiff informed Joseph of her back problems. After she began working at Rite Aid, plaintiff experienced pain and soreness in her back and she had difficulties performing her job duties. In November 2000, plaintiff temporarily resigned from her position at Rite Aid due to her back problems. She was diagnosed with herniated discs. Plaintiff underwent spinal surgery in April 2001 to address that condition.
In July 2001, plaintiff contacted Joseph and expressed an interest in returning to work at Rite Aid. Joseph had been promoted and she informed plaintiff that Steve Hawn had taken over as Rite Aid's district manager. Plaintiff spoke to Hawn and he offered her a position as assistant manager. Initially, plaintiff was assigned to work at the Rite Aid store in Tuckerton, New Jersey, but, after several weeks, she was reassigned to the store in Atco, New Jersey. Supino was the store manager at that location. Plaintiff's job duties included handling merchandise and inventory.
On October 12, 2001, plaintiff strained her lower back while attempting to position shelves in the aisle for seasonal merchandise. Plaintiff was treated by her family physician, who diagnosed a "recurrent" disc herniation. Plaintiff alleged that, at this time, she began to experience problems with Supino.
Plaintiff testified that Supino made various comments to her of a sexual nature that plaintiff thought were inappropriate. According to plaintiff, Supino remarked, "[f]or what I'm paying you, I should get some kind of benefit[.]" He also said, "I know what your problem is, I know what you need." In addition, Supino commented on the physical appearance of the female customers.
Plaintiff said that she spoke to Robert Leylo, Rite Aid's Manager for Human Resources, about problems she was having with Supino, and he referred her to Hawn. Plaintiff said that she spoke to Hawn, but he did not take her concerns seriously. According to plaintiff, Hawn told her that she should "just punch [Supino] in the face."
Plaintiff testified that, thereafter, "things started getting worse[.]" Plaintiff claimed that, on one occasion, Supino brushed up or pressed against her when she attempted to walk past him. Plaintiff said that, on another occasion, she arrived at work and her shirt was not buttoned correctly. When she turned around and attempted to fix the problem, Supino told her not to turn around and said, "[g]o ahead, unbutton it[.]"
Plaintiff stated that another incident occurred when she was standing on a ladder. According to plaintiff, Supino approached her and rubbed her ankle and calf and "part of [her] thigh." Plaintiff said that she was "scared to death[.]" Plaintiff asserted that she spoke with Hawn about changing her position. Hawn told plaintiff that he did not have any other place to put her at the time but he would "work on it."
Plaintiff testified that another incident occurred on November 28, 2001. Plaintiff said that Supino called her into his office to assist him in typing a letter. Plaintiff was sitting down working on the letter and Supino started pressing her hand. Plaintiff said she wanted to "get out of there" as quickly as possible. Plaintiff stated that she was headed for the stairs when Supino placed his "hand on [her] right breast." Plaintiff said that she was startled, jumped backwards, and landed on the step, "right on [her] spine[.]" Plaintiff reported her injury to management and filed a workmen's compensation claim.
Thereafter, plaintiff continued to work at Rite Aid. In January 2002, plaintiff was asked to go to a Rite Aid store in Vineland, New Jersey, to "help out." Plaintiff encountered Hawn at the Vineland store and told him about the November 28, 2001 incident involving Supino.
Hawn told plaintiff that she would not be put back in the Atco store and he instructed plaintiff to prepare a written report of the incident. Hawn discussed the matter with Lelyo and they decided to terminate Supino. Plaintiff then was promoted to the position of store manager at the Atco location.
As part of his duties as district manager, Hawn made periodic inspections of the stores in his district, which included the store in Atco. On September 16, 2002, during an inspection, Hawn found the conditions in the Atco store were ...