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Paternoster v. Ecco USA Inc.

March 11, 2010

MATTHEW PATERNOSTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ECCO USA INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

OPINION

This matter has come before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims of employment discrimination because of his disability. For the reasons expressed below, defendant's motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

From August 16, 2006 through January 31, 2007, plaintiff, Matthew Paternoster, was employed by defendant, ECCO USA, Inc., as a shoe sales associate at defendant's store in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Plaintiff claims that on the same day he requested leave for his disability--anxiety and depression--he was terminated. Plaintiff claims that defendant violated New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq., by wrongfully terminating him because of his disability and by refusing to provide him with reasonable accommodations. Defendant denies these claims, and has filed its instant motion for summary judgment. Defendant counters that it was not aware that plaintiff was requesting leave for his disability, but rather for "personal reasons." Correspondingly, defendant contends that it terminated plaintiff's employment because an "unsavory character" entered the store on two occasions looking for plaintiff, and this "character" threatened the safety of plaintiff's co-workers and customers. Defendant also argues that plaintiff's admitted heroin use does not classify as a disability. Plaintiff opposes defendant's motion.

DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

B. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).

C. Analysis

In its motion, defendant argues that plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case of discriminatory discharge or failure to accommodate under the NJLAD. Further, defendant argues that plaintiff cannot prove that his purported disability was the reason he was terminated. In his opposition, plaintiff argues that evidence on the record establishes his ...


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