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Anderson v. DSM N.V.

December 11, 2008

NANCY ANDERSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DSM N.V., A CORPORATION OF THE NETHERLANDS, DSM PHARMACEUTICALS, INC., AND DSM PHARMACEUTICAL PRODUCTS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Greenaway, Jr., U.S.D.J.

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This matter comes before this Court on the motion by Defendants, DSM Pharmaceuticals Inc., ("DPI"), and DSM Pharmaceutical Products, Inc., (collectively "Defendants")*fn1 , for summary judgment, pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), against Plaintiff, Nancy Anderson ("Anderson" or "Plaintiff"). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. In May 2002, Anderson began her employment with DPI in Greenville, North Carolina as Vice President of Human Resources. (Plaintiff's "Statement of Disputed Material Facts" ("Pl. 56.1 Stmt."), ¶ 1.) Plaintiff's terms of employment were memorialized in an offer letter dated May 14, 2002. (Id., ¶ 2; Defendants' Statement of Material Facts ("Def. 56.1 Stmt."), ¶5.) The letter also confirmed Anderson's employment status as 'at-will'. (See Certification of Jed Marcus ("Marcus Cert."), Ex. 7.) In March 2003, Plaintiff began reporting to Leendert Staal, DPI's newly appointed Chief Executive Officer. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 3; Def. 56.1. Stmt., ¶¶ 6-7.)

In late 2004, Mr. Staal and another company executive approached Anderson about a possible transfer to become the Director of the USA shared services human resources project. (Def. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 12.) Plaintiff was formally offered the position by letter ("Transfer of Position letter"), dated November 29, 2004. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt.,¶ 6; Def. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 13.) The Transfer of Position letter stated that Anderson's transfer appointment was to begin January 1, 2005. (Marcus Cert., Ex. 8.) Plaintiff's employment status remained at-will under the terms of the transfer appointment. (Id.) According to the Transfer of Position letter, Anderson's project duties were expected to be completed by June 30, 2006. (Id.) If the project was accepted and approved by the relevant stakeholders, Plaintiff was to be appointed "Director DSM Shared Services USA." (Id.) Plaintiff's future appointment was contingent on approval by the Executive Development committee. (Id.) The Transfer of Position letter stated that in the event Anderson's appointment was not approved, she would be terminated and eligible for nine (9) months severance pay. (Id.)

On October 11, 2005, Anderson and Mr. Staal met to discuss employment positions and hierarchical reorganization. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 15; Def. 56.1 Stmt. ¶25). It was at this meeting that Mr. Staal informed Plaintiff that she would be reporting to a new manager, Cor Vikser. (Id.)

Defendants contend that Anderson became "really upset" by the news of the reporting structure change. (Def. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 26.) Plaintiff asserts that the news surprised her, because she thought "that the natural progression for her would be to manage" the division. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 16.) Mr. Staal informed Anderson that the reporting decision was non-negotiable. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 17; Def. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 27). Thereafter, Anderson requested to speak with senior supervisors about her career progression. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 18; Def. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 27.) Plaintiff's request angered Mr. Staal. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 19; Def. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 28.)

Defendants contend that it was Plaintiff's behavior at the October 11, 2005 meeting, which led to the decision to terminate Plaintiff. (Def. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 29.) Mr. Staal's secretary scheduled a follow-up meeting between Plaintiff and Mr. Staal for October 12, 2005. (Id., ¶ 30.) Plaintiff asserts that she was not feeling well and decided to reschedule the meeting. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 24.)

Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff, who had been experiencing chest pains and sweats, flew to South Carolina and visited her doctor. (Id., ¶¶ 26-27.) Anderson was admitted to the emergency room and underwent inpatient treatment for two days. (Id., ¶ 28.) Plaintiff's husband informed her secretary that she had been admitted to the hospital. (Id., ¶ 29.) Mr. Staal contacted the Anderson household on October 17, 2005 to inquire about Plaintiff's condition. (Id., ¶ 31.) Mr. Staal later spoke with Anderson on October 27, 2005, and on another occasion to inquire about Plaintiff's return to work. (Id., ¶¶ 34, 35.) On approximately November 11, 2005, Anderson notified DPI, in writing, of her intention to take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. § 2601. (Id., ¶ 41.)

Around December 8, 2005, Anderson received a telephone call from a company executive notifying her of her termination. (Id., ¶ 42.) On December 12, 2005, Plaintiff received a letter from Mr. Staal confirming her termination. (Id., ¶ 43.) The termination letter states the reason for termination was Anderson's "refusal to accept the new reporting line, [her] clearly deep-seated unwillingness to support the future arrangement, and the fact that our realignment decision was nonnegotiable." (Marcus Cert., Ex. 11.) After her receipt of the termination letter, Anderson's counselor informed DPI, via letter, that plaintiff was still unable to return to work. (Pl. 56.1 Stmt., ¶ 45; see also Marcus Cert., Ex. 5 at 230.)

Since December 2005 and, at least, until the filing of defendants' summary judgment motion, Anderson has been under the care of Edward Connor, a Licensed Professional Counselor.*fn2 (Id., ¶ 46.) In January 2006, Dr. Connor diagnosed Anderson with Major Depressive Disorder and Panic Disorder. (Id., ¶¶ 47, 48.) Plaintiff contends that until October 2006, she was functionally disabled and unable to return to work or find employment for which her experience and education qualified her to perform. (Id., ¶ 50.)

Plaintiff commenced the instant action on October 24, 2006, by filing a Complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey. In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges causes of action for breach of contract (Count I); breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing (Count II); violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., (Count III); violation of the FMLA (Count IV); violation of the New Jersey Law against Discrimination ("NJLAD") (Count V); and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count VI). Defendants then filed a notice of removal in this action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441*fn3 , and moved for summary judgment on all counts, pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted as to Counts I, II, III, V, and VI. Defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied as to Count IV.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate under FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c), when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23; Cascara v. Pomeroy, 313 F.3d 828, 832-33 (3d Cir. 2002). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, and is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Justofin v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 517, 521 (3d Cir. 2004). This Court views "the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw[s] all inferences in that party's favor." Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007) (internal citation omitted). "In considering a motion for ...


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