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Stahl v. State of New Jersey Dep't of Human Services

October 19, 2009

LAURIN STAHL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-1876-05.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 29, 2009

Before Judges Lisa, Baxter and Alvarez.

Plaintiff Laurin Stahl appeals from a June 20, 2008 order that denied her motion for reconsideration of an order issued on May 9, 2008. The May 9, 2008 order granted the summary judgment motion of defendant, Department of Human Services (DHS), to dismiss plaintiff's complaint on grounds of a violation of the applicable two-year statute of limitations. We affirm.

I.

In April 2001, plaintiff was transferred to the Division of Youth and Family Services' Office of Revenue Development (ORD), where she held the position of Program Support Specialist. Initially, plaintiff experienced no problems with her fellow employees. In June 2002, however, a union representative began to receive complaints from ethnic minorities within the ORD unit that plaintiff was discriminating against them. Shortly thereafter, a meeting was held to discuss those complaints; plaintiff was not asked to attend the meeting.

On or about June 13, 2002, Bill Henderson, plaintiff's immediate supervisor, notified his superiors that a member of plaintiff's unit heard some of plaintiff's fellow employees, during a private party, and in the food court during lunch, refer to plaintiff as a "dyke" and a "nazi dyke," and comment that they would not work for a "dyke" supervisor. Later that month, plaintiff attended a meeting requested by the employees she supervised to discuss their complaints that her management style was too rigid and that she had discriminated against minorities.

On July 5, 2002, plaintiff filed her first complaint against DYFS with the agency's equal employment opportunity/affirmative action (EEO/AA) officer, alleging a hostile work environment. She complained of secret union meetings between upper management and select members of her unit, during which plaintiff alleged she had been called a "nazi." Some six weeks later, on August 19, 2002, plaintiff submitted a reassignment request, citing a hostile work environment. A week later, a supervisor removed the ORD from plaintiff's supervision and reassigned her to work at a contract agency, Maximus. Although reassigned, plaintiff retained her title and salary. At the same time, the supervisor designated a new manager of the unit, selecting a person who had been deemed a poor manager and who had therefore previously been removed from that position.

On August 30, 2002, plaintiff filed a second EEO/AA complaint, alleging that she had been subjected to retaliation as a result of her previously-filed discrimination complaint. Plaintiff asserted that she had been relieved of her responsibilities as supervisor and transferred to Maximus soon after her sexual orientation was revealed to supervisors without her consent.

For approximately one month of the time plaintiff worked at Maximus, she was assigned to work with a former subordinate to "make copies" and perform data entry. She was also assigned several fiscal tasks, which plaintiff claimed were impossible to complete. In September 2002, an employee of the Adoption Resource Center in Voorhees told plaintiff she heard discriminatory remarks based on plaintiff's sexual orientation from members of plaintiff's former unit, ORD.

In November 2002, plaintiff was relieved of the responsibility of completing her former subordinates' performance reviews. At the same time, she was involuntarily transferred to the Accounting Department of DYFS, where she was responsible for providing clerical support, a duty which was considerably less prestigious than her original position as Program Support Specialist. Plaintiff alleges the transfer to the Accounting Department was retaliatory and demeaning, because it was below her skill level. Plaintiff was also subjected to being trained by a lower-level employee and was required to complete menial tasks, such as the cataloging of returned checks. Plaintiff performed those duties for approximately one year.

Moreover, once plaintiff was transferred to the Accounting Department in November 2002, her new work station was considerably smaller than her former supervisory cubicle, and, although required to work beyond her normal office hours, plaintiff was denied overtime compensation. She was also assigned to a work station that was in proximity to women who wore perfume that triggered an allergic reaction, even though her sensitivity to perfumes was well-known.

On March 18, 2005, plaintiff filed a four-count complaint against defendant, alleging discriminatory retaliation and a hostile work environment in violation of the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49. In the first two counts, she asserted that defendant retaliated against her because she had filed internal complaints alleging discrimination. She also alleged a hostile work environment. The third count alleged the same LAD violations, but against fictitious parties. The fourth count alleged defendant negligently failed to train and oversee the supervisors and employees who had discriminated against her.*fn1 The ...


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