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Onanuga v. Huntingdon Life Sciences

May 19, 2010

SAMUEL R. ONANUGA, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
HUNTINGDON LIFE SCIENCES, INC., KAY SALADDIN, AND BARBARA LITZENBERGER, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Docket No. L-2697-07.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted April 12, 2010

Before Judges Rodríguez and Chambers.

Plaintiff Samuel R. Onanuga brought this suit against his former employer, defendant Huntington Life Sciences, Inc. (HLS) and his former supervisors Kay Saladdin and Barbara Litzenberger, contending that they discriminated against him due to his race and national origin and subjected him to a hostile work environment contrary to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49.*fn1 By order dated June 12, 2009, the trial court granted summary judgment to defendants. Plaintiff now appeals. We affirm for substantially the reasons given by the trial court.

I.

In reviewing an appeal from a summary judgment order, we apply the same standard as the trial court. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Boylan, 307 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 154 N.J. 608 (1998). We must look at the competent evidence "in the light most favorable to the non- moving party" and determine whether that evidence is "sufficient to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the alleged disputed issue in favor of the non-moving party." Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). Summary judgment is appropriate where, after applying this test, we determine that no genuine issue of material fact is present and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. R. 4:46-2(c).

Looking at the record from the perspective most favorable to plaintiff, the relevant facts are as follows. Plaintiff, who is black and Nigerian,*fn2 was a longtime employee of HLS and had achieved the rank of senior scientist in the Analytical Department. He became unhappy with his job and believed that he was being treated unfairly when his supervisor required him to write reports and help obtain copies of certain documentation for Asian co-workers who were not as proficient in English as he was. He contended that this was not part of his job responsibilities and that, as a result of doing this work for others, he had less time to spend on his own projects. He also contended that he became unhappy when a co-worker was promoted who had less seniority than he did and that he applied for another opening at HLS which was given to a person who had less experience than he had, although it appears that plaintiff was making more money than the position offered.

With respect to the hostile work environment claim, plaintiff testified at his deposition that he became "uncomfortable" with the work environment when he was asked to do work for Asian co-workers due to his proficiency in English. He acknowledged, however, that no one in the work place ever made any derogatory comments about his race or national origin.

HLS terminated plaintiff's employment on August 2, 2005, and contended that it did so due to his poor job performance and insubordination to his supervisor, defendant Kay Saladdin.

Plaintiff, however, denied that he had cursed at his supervisor and contended that she yelled at him. He also pointed out that his performance review for earlier years had been positive.

The trial court granted defendants' motion for summary judgment and dismissed plaintiff's LAD claims. In a written decision, the trial court explained its decision in pertinent part as follows:

I. Onanuga's Law Against Discrimination Claim

New Jersey has adopted the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting standard for LAD claims. Under this framework, the following three-step process is undertaken: "(1) the plaintiff must come forward with sufficient evidence to constitute a prima facie case of discrimination; (2) the defendant [then] must show a legitimate non-discriminatory reason for its decision; and (3) the plaintiff must then be given the opportunity to show that defendant's stated reason was merely [a] pretext or discriminatory in its application." Dixon v. Rutgers, 11 ...


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