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Lyons v. New Jersey Dep't of Transportation

September 30, 2010


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


This matter comes before the Court on the motion of Defendants New Jersey Department of Transportation ("State Defendant"), David Sichik, Michael Seigfried, Charles Young, Jeffrey Palmer, Joseph Sacco, Ronald Maruca, Arthur Marchione, Vince Baglivo, Albert Malatesta, Paul Hoffman and William Mullowney ("Individual Defendants") for Summary Judgment on all remaining claims of Plaintiff's Complaint. Plaintiff's Complaint, filed pro se, alleges discrimination on the basis of race and gender by her employer and a number of supervisors. Although Plaintiff requested at least three extensions of time, she did not file an opposition brief to Defendants' Motion. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' Motion will be granted.

I. Background*fn1

Plaintiff, Jane Lyons, an African American female, began working with Defendant New Jersey Department of Transportation ("NJDOT") in 1979 as an Engineering Aide One. In 1983, Plaintiff was promoted to Assistant Engineer and, in 1988, to the position of Senior Engineer. Plaintiff's title is currently Senior Engineer/Transportation. Plaintiff filed her Complaint with this Court on June 23, 2006, alleging, among other claims, racial and gender discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation.

Starting in 1983 with Plaintiff's transfer from materials to construction, and continuing over the course of her employment, Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to numerous incidents of discriminatory and retaliatory conduct. The first specific incident occurred in 1983 when Plaintiff contends that she was on a list to be fired. A family friend, however, intervened and Plaintiff was not terminated. Plaintiff alleges that in 1983 she should have been transferred to a construction site closer to her home. In 1987, Plaintiff states that the son of the president of a contractor working for NJDOT touched her backside. After informing her supervisor of the incident, the two met with the president, but Plaintiff never received a formal apology. Between 1987 and 1990, Plaintiff's supervisor assigned her to work in the office to assist the secretaries.

Around 1991, Plaintiff alleges that a contractor's employees directed discriminatory remarks towards her. Subsequently, with the support of NJDOT's management, she filed an internal complaint with NJDOT and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). In 1995, Plaintiff sent letters regarding another contractor's discriminatory remarks to the Deputy Attorney General. Later that year, a supervisor on a new project, Project 55, allegedly told Plaintiff that she was going to be sent to a disciplinarian. In 1996, Plaintiff expressed her displeasure with Project 55, specifically complaining about the long commute and the contractor's constant verbal harassment. These situations allegedly caused Plaintiff to take sick leave due to increased blood pressure. While on sick leave, Plaintiff contends that she was called unnecessarily at odd hours of the night by NJDOT's management and human resources department.

When Plaintiff returned from leave, she alleges that Defendant Joseph Sacco told her that he was having trouble finding a project for her because no one wanted to work with her. Plaintiff further alleges that Sacco assigned her demeaning work and did not support her when contractors harassed her. In 1998, Plaintiff was assigned to a new project and alleges that the contractor's foreman subjected her to racial slurs. Plaintiff alleges that she was removed from the project later that year because she wanted to file a complaint against the contractor.

Plaintiff further alleges that in 1998 she was subjected to a hostile work environment when she was investigated for, among other things, using her work phone for personal phone calls. Sometime prior to 2000, Plaintiff complained of differential treatment because, in her mind, she deserved to be promoted to Resident Engineer on a project when the previous Resident Engineer retired. In 1999, while on a new project under Defendant Vince Baglivo, Plaintiff was given limited responsibility and told by Baglivo that he did not want her on the project. While on this project, Plaintiff alleges that a consultant working on the job cursed at her and told her that Baglivo informed him that he was not required to listen to her instructions. Later that year, Plaintiff alleges that she was not considered for five position openings, but should have been.

While on a new project in 2000, Plaintiff filed a workplace violence complaint against the project's contractor. Instead of defaulting the contractor, NJDOT made Baglivo the Resident Engineer and Plaintiff was required to now report to Baglivo. Also in 2000, Plaintiff was charged with misconduct and disciplined in 2001. In 2001, Plaintiff was removed from her project and assigned to office work, a transfer she alleges was discriminatory.

For approximately a three month period in 2000, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Ronald Maruca, her supervisor, wrote her harassing letters threatening discipline. Later in 2000, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Arthur Marchione revealed to a contractor that she was returning from disciplinary leave and he was trying to set her up for further discipline. Plaintiff also claims the Marchione had previously harassed her in the 1990s.

Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Albert Malatesta, sometime between 2000 and 2001, failed to resolve a dispute between Plaintiff and another contractor.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant, Paul Hofmann, harassed her between 2000 to 2001 by yelling at her while discussing a project, opposing her workman's compensation claim in 2000 and filing a Sick Leave Injury complaint. Plaintiff alleges that, in 2002, Defendant David Sichik, NJDOT's Regional Director of Construction, harassed her during a phone interview. She also holds him liable for any discriminatory acts of his subordinates because he reviewed all complaints she filed. Prior to Sichik, Defendant Siegfried held the Regional Director position and reviewed Plaintiff's complaints. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Charles Young, sometime prior to 2002, failed to investigate Plaintiff's harassment complaints regarding managers that he supervised.

On March 23, 2005, Plaintiff filed a Charge of Discrimination with the EEOC, alleging that she was discriminated on the basis of race and sex, and that Defendants retaliated against her for having filed prior complaints with the Department of Transportation, New Jersey Division of Civil Rights and the EEOC. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that on or about July 1, 2004, she was involuntarily reassigned to a position that required her to work with the individuals about whom she previously complained.

In 2005, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Jeff Palmer did not support her after she informed him about a disagreement with a contractor who allegedly grabbed her. Additionally, in 2006, Plaintiff alleges that although Palmer authorized an office relocation when advised Plaintiff's desk had a racial epithet etched on it, he took a month to effectuate the relocation. In her deposition testimony, however, Plaintiff states that she took a leave of absence for a month after she discovered the etched racial slur and upon her return in a month, she received a new desk. Plaintiff, still unhappy, complained that she wanted an office relocation and went home. Upon arrival the next day, Plaintiff discovered her office location changed. Plaintiff then complained about her new location. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Bill Mullowney, her supervisor in 2005, failed to support her when the president of a contractor grabbed her on the shoulder.

On April 18, 2006, the EEOC issued Plaintiff her "right to sue letter," and on June 23, 2006 Plaintiff filed her Complaint with this Court alleging, among other claims, racial and gender discrimination, hostile work environment and retaliation. On April 30, 2008, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, asserting that Plaintiff's claims were barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity. In its Opinion, dated November 12, 2008, the Court granted Defendants' motion in part and denied it in part. Specifically, the Court dismissed all counts except Count II against DOT, as well as all counts except Count II as to the individual Defendant's in their official capacities for damages. Accordingly, the only regaining claims in this case are Count II (against all Defendants), Counts III through VIII against the Individual Defendant's in their personal capacity, and official capacity for prospective injunctive relief.

II. Discussion

A. Jurisdiction

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated Title VII, the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and 42 U.S.C. § 1986. Thus, this Court exercises subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction). The Court exercises supplemental ...

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