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Corbitt v. Township of Irvington

April 9, 2009


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-1323-05.

Per curiam.


Submitted December 9, 2008

Before Judges Parker and LeWinn.

Plaintiff Michael Corbitt appeals from the March 14, 2008 order of the Law Division granting summary judgment to defendant Township of Irvington (Township), dismissing his employment discrimination complaint.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

We summarize the factual background from the deposition transcripts and other exhibits submitted on the summary judgment motion. In September 2002, plaintiff was hired by the Township as a supervisory recreation leader/coordinator in the Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs. On June 5, 2003, while working at the Chris Gatling Recreation Center, plaintiff had an altercation with another employee, John Dupree, who brandished a gun, held it to the side of plaintiff's head and told him to lie down on the floor. Plaintiff managed to escape, injuring his knee in the process.

Plaintiff filed a criminal complaint against Dupree. The Mayor of Irvington informed plaintiff that he had personally instructed Dupree not to come within a certain distance of plaintiff at work. Plaintiff initially engaged in therapy with Dr. Jeffrey S. Kahn, a psychologist with Summit Psychological Services. On July 7, 2003, Dr. Kahn sent a letter to plaintiff's supervisor, Donald Malloy, diagnosing plaintiff with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and opining that plaintiff was not "currently able to work and w[ould] require at least two to three months of treatment before he w[ould] be able to return, assuming a positive response to the psychotherapy and possible pharmacotherapy."

At some point, plaintiff began seeing Dr. Sharon Feeney, another psychologist in the same office. On September 9, 2003, Dr. Feeney cleared plaintiff to return to work "on a gradual basis in order to avoid overloading [him] and risking a relapse." Dr. Feeney recommended that plaintiff return on a part-time status, working three days a week and increasing to four and five days a week "as he feels ready." The doctor opined that plaintiff's part-time status would not last "more than a few weeks." On October 23, 2003, Dr. Fenney cleared plaintiff to return to work on a full-time basis.

Upon his return to work, plaintiff was re-assigned to the Irvington Senior Center and, later, to the East Ward Recreation Center; Dupree apparently continued to work at the Gatling Center. Plaintiff acknowledged that his supervisor, Malloy, had offered him three different work schedules at the Senior Center, but none was acceptable to plaintiff because "[t]hose were not the hours that [he] initially agreed upon when [he] accepted the position with the Township . . . ." Eventually, plaintiff's workday schedule was changed from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., to 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Plaintiff claimed he was not "available to work those hours[,]" but offered no explanation.

As part of his assignment to the Senior Center, plaintiff was required to accompany monthly senior citizen excursions to Atlantic City. Plaintiff stated that he is an "ordained deacon" of his church and that "being an ordained deacon, [he] cannot participate and will not participate in any environment that condones alcohol, gambling and . . . such." Plaintiff claimed that his "superiors[] tried to force [him] to . . . participate in trips to Atlantic City and stay in gambling casinos while the seniors would gamble and do whatever it is they do"; however, he "continually refused to do that, and [he] was told that if [he] didn't do that [he] would be terminated."

Plaintiff acknowledged that, despite pressure from his "superiors," he never accompanied any senior citizen trips to Atlantic City. Moreover, he was not terminated for his refusal to go on those trips. Instead, he was transferred to the East Ward Recreation Center.

In a March 12, 2004 memo to plaintiff, Township Business Administrator Wayne Bradley stated:

Mr. Malloy is endeavoring to fit you into a work environment that best matches your skills and the Department of Recreation's needs. You were assigned to the Senior Citizens Center after returning from an extended sick leave; however, you expressed to Mayor Smith a desire to supervise recreation activities. You are being afforded this opportunity now that Mr. Malloy has a need for a Recreation Leader at the East Ward Recreation Center.

Plaintiff considered the transfer a "hostile" act, however, because, he claimed, the East Ward Recreation Center was located in "the most economically deprived area[,]" of the Township and had "[a] lot of crime . . . that was . . . [a] risk for [him] safety wise." Notwithstanding those concerns, as of the date of his deposition on November 19, 2007, plaintiff was still employed at the East Ward Recreation ...

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