On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-4899-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 27, 2008
Before Judges Carchman and Simonelli.
Plaintiff, Terrence Taylor, a dealer at a roulette table operated at defendant GNOC Corp. d/b/a The Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort's casino, observed what he believed to be a patron cheating at the table. The form of cheating involved the "past-posting*fn1 " of a bet after the winning number had been called. Rather than report the incident to his supervisor, plaintiff pushed the patron's hand and chips away from the table. A "scene" ensued including words being exchanged between plaintiff, the patrons and his supervisor, together with a dispute as to the amount due the patron upon "cashing out."
As a result of the incident, plaintiff was terminated. He brought an action under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 to -14. Following discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment. The motion judge granted summary judgment and dismissed the complaint. Plaintiff appeals, and we affirm.
The facts are not complex. On March 7, 2005, plaintiff was the dealer at roulette game number 204 in defendant's casino. Shortly after plaintiff began his 4:00 a.m. shift, a man and woman came to his table and purchased $100 in blue chips.*fn2 The couple played two spins, then on the third spin, plaintiff called "no more bets" and removed a marker from its electronic station on the table, which triggered a signal on the table's television monitor to flash "no more bets." Once the ball dropped, plaintiff placed a marker on the winning number, 29. Plaintiff then cleared the losing bets and began to pay winning bets.
As plaintiff paid the winning bets, the woman began placing bets towards the lower end of the table where the winning number was marked. Plaintiff, perceiving these to be "past-post" bets, immediately pushed the bets and the patron's hand and arm back towards her. Her husband then said "don't touch my wife's hand." Plaintiff then responded by saying "I'm not touching your wife's hand. I'm strictly pushing the illegal past-posted bets back to her." The husband then began getting hostile towards plaintiff saying that plaintiff was "stupid."
Martin Roller, plaintiff's supervisor, upon hearing the commotion, came to the table and asked plaintiff what happened. Plaintiff explained the situation, and then Roller told plaintiff to step back. The couple showed some hostility towards Roller as he tried to calm them down.
After the incident, the couple told plaintiff they wanted to "cash out." During this time, plaintiff spun the ball for the next spin, and the woman pushed her cheques all over the layout while the game was still in progress. Plaintiff then picked up the cheques and counted them determining that $92 was due the couple. Plaintiff's supervisor approved the amount, and he handed them the $92. The couple argued, however, that they had $112 in cheques. Not satisfied, the couple called the pit boss, Steve Ryan. Ryan called up to the surveillance area where a review of the tape confirmed that the $92 payoff was correct.*fn3
The couple then asked for the pit boss's name and where they could find the Casino Control Commission, (hereinafter "CCC"). Steve Ryan reported the matter to the shift manager, Terry Terch, who completed a report for the CCC. Plaintiff heard nothing further about the incident until later that morning when he was called into the shift manager's office. Terch and Mary Kate May, the casino games manager, were present in the office when May stated that she thought plaintiff had demonstrated misconduct by pushing the patron's hand. Plaintiff tried to explain that he did so in order to prevent cheating at his table. May then suspended plaintiff pending investigation. Three days later, on March 10, 2005, defendant terminated plaintiff from his position.
On appeal, plaintiff contends that the motion judge erred:
1) by requiring that plaintiff establish the conduct he objected to is the responsibility of the employer under CEPA; 2) by failing to find that there was a factual dispute as to the propriety of plaintiff's touching the patron as a "legitimate objection" to the cheating; and 3) by failing to find that plaintiff proved a violation of N.J.S.A. 34:19-3(c).
We have carefully reviewed the record and generally affirm for the reasons set forth in Judge Perkie's thoughtful and thorough oral opinion of October 9, 2007. ...