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Brunner v. Vertis

November 24, 2008

DARLEEN BRUNNER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
VERTIS, INC. AND PETER TINDALL, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-8268-05.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued October 21, 2008

Before Judges Wefing, Yannotti and LeWinn.

Plaintiff Darleen Brunner appeals from an order entered by the trial court on August 8, 2007, which granted summary judgment in favor of defendants Vertis, Inc. (Vertis) and Peter Tindall (Tindall). We affirm.

Plaintiff was employed by Vertis from August 1979 through November 2003, when her employment was terminated. At the time she was fired, plaintiff held the position of "Prepress Workflow Specialist Supervisor." Plaintiff had responsibility for, among other things, supervising the production of commercial print advertisements for Vertis' customers. Tindall was Vertis' Director of Operations.

It appears that through 2002, plaintiff's supervisors found her work to be satisfactory. In November 2002, plaintiff's supervisor John O'Pecko rated plaintiff as "fully competent" and noted in his evaluation that plaintiff had been making "a positive contribution" to her department and the company. Thereafter, plaintiff's supervisors noted deficiencies in her job performance.

In January 2003, Grant Bayer, the manager of Vertis' Prepress Department, issued a written warning to plaintiff because of her "inexcusable failure" to schedule and complete certain printing jobs. Furthermore, in June 2003, O'Pecko issued another written warning to plaintiff. O'Pecko noted several instances of plaintiff's inadequate performance, including the aforementioned failure to schedule and complete work in January 2003; the mailing of a film package to the wrong location in February 2003; and her work on "the wrong job for [two] shifts."

O'Pecko placed plaintiff on a performance improvement plan. She was required to review all of the work in her department and to "prioritize accordingly." O'Pecko instructed plaintiff to "communicate priorities and work production expectations to second and third shifts" and document on a weekly basis any defective or improper work or personnel issues. Even so, there continued to be complaints about plaintiff's poor supervisory work and other performance issues.

In September 2003, plaintiff met with Bayer and Paul Kleiner, the company's Human Resources Manager, to discuss the continuing problems with her performance. Bayer summarized the discussion in a memorandum that he placed in plaintiff's file. He wrote that "prep and facility people" had complained about plaintiff's negative behavior. They said that plaintiff had slammed things on a table and kicked or shoved chairs across the room. There also had been complaints that plaintiff "talk[ed] down" to "prep employees to the point of intimidating them."

Bayer wrote that plaintiff's job was "critical to the success" of the "prep" department. He noted that plaintiff was on the second shift and her "main function" was to prioritize work for up to three plants and communicate with the "prep" employees on the second and third shifts.

Bayer directed plaintiff to "make clear and concise instructions for both shifts" and provide those instructions to the persons working on those shifts. He wrote that the company expected "immediate and sustained improvement in the areas we discussed." Bayer said that plaintiff's failure to meet these expectations could result in disciplinary action including termination.

On October 25, 2003, plaintiff was one of three Vertis employees working on the production of a color print advertisement for Canon USA, Inc. Plaintiff was the only supervisor working on this project. Before the advertisement could be sent to press, the Vertis employees had to check three boxes at the bottom of a document called a "sherpa."

The boxes on the sherpa were marked DIT (for Digital Imposition Technician); DOT (for Digital Output Technician); and QA (for Quality Assurance). One employee checked the DIT and plaintiff checked the boxes for DOT and QA. As a result, the Canon advertisement was sent to press; however, it was later discovered that type ...


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