On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, L-9038-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 12, 2010
Before Judges Lisa, Reisner and Alvarez.
Plaintiff Jessie Clemmons appeals from an October 23, 2009 order dismissing on summary judgment her complaint asserting employment discrimination and related common law claims. We affirm.
These are the most pertinent facts drawn from the summary judgment record.*fn1 Clemmons began her employment as a bulk laboratory technician at defendant Guest Packaging, L.L.C. (Guest Packaging or Guest), on November 1, 2004. Guest packages shampoo, conditioner, soap and various other cosmetic and hygiene products for use by the hotel industry. As a bulk laboratory technician, Clemmons was required, among other things, to conduct tests determining the chemical and physical characteristics of the bulk products (e.g., large containers of shampoo) to ensure they adhered to the applicable production standards.
At the outset of her employment, Clemmons received a copy of the Guest Packaging Employee Handbook, which specifically stated in bold lettering that her employment was on an at-will basis. Clemmons formally acknowledged her receipt of the handbook and her understanding of the at-will nature of her employment with Guest.
Safwan Hussam,*fn2 the manager of the bulk laboratory, was Clemmons' direct supervisor. During Clemmons' employment, Hussam repeatedly documented problems with her job performance and gave her opportunities to improve. Clemmons received her first performance notice from Hussam on June 16, 2005, for issuing the wrong expiration date on a batch of products. She signed the written warning and added in the section for employee comment: "I accept full responsibility for the error, however, management must be consistent in communicating expected practices."
Hussam issued a second written warning to Clemmons on July 13, 2005. This warning, which Clemmons refused to sign, concerned her refusal to attend training so she would be able to cover for an employee from another department who was going on vacation. According to Hussam's report:
The reaction from Jessie was not acceptable at all. She looked at me up and down and she said in front of Anthony [another Guest bulk lab technician] and [said] authoritatively I'm not going to do that, it is not on my job description; find someone else.
On July 13, 2005, Hussam also evaluated Clemmons' job performance. He indicated that Clemmons "meets expectations" in most categories. However, Clemmons received lower marks in the "Cooperation" section, where Hussam indicated that Clemmons "needs improvement" in four areas and that she performed "below expectations" in two areas. Hussam noted that "her level of cooperation is not acceptable," and emphasized that she needed to be more willing to cooperate and adapt to changing circumstances in her work environment. Clemmons objected to this assessment, and noted her disagreement on the evaluation.
By March 15, 2006, her job performance had improved, and Hussam recommended her for a raise of $1 per hour, to $18 per hour. He noted that Clemmons had been very helpful and productive over the past six months. In Hussam's July 18, 2006 performance evaluation of Clemmons, she received higher marks than the previous year. Hussam indicated that Clemmons "exceeded expectations" in three areas, "needs improvement" in four, and did not perform "below expectations" in any area. His summary of her performance stated: "I'm somewhat satisfied with Jessie's performance. She accepts criticism and feedback sometimes and uses it to improve her performance."
Pursuant to Hussam's recommendation, Clemmons received another raise on July 31, 2006, bringing her hourly wage up to $18.54. Clemmons was dissatisfied with this pay increase, and believed that she should have received a higher amount, although at her deposition she admitted that she did not know what, if any, increases other employees received.
On March 30, 2007, Clemmons received a third written warning for failing to cooperate with co-workers and for leaving the laboratory without explanation or authorization. In her deposition, Clemmons testified that she left the lab in order to move her car at the instruction of Guest's security personnel. She indicated that this situation arose occasionally for all Guest employees, because parking could be problematic during shift changes and the legal spots would all be temporarily occupied. After receiving this warning, Clemmons asked for a meeting with Human Resources.
The meeting occurred on April 16, 2007. In anticipation of that meeting, Clemmons drafted a memorandum dated April 16, 2007, asserting that she had been promised a promotion. Her memorandum, captioned "Performance Notice & Corrective Action," concerned a meeting that had taken place on February 16, 2007, before she received her most recent disciplinary recent warning. The memo stated:
On February 16, 2007, a meeting was held with departmental heads to discuss my career development in the Quality Assurance Department.
Present were: Dr. Robert Glassman, Director Safwan Hussameldin, Laboratory Manager Jessie Clemmons The meeting centered on my upcoming promotion to a position of greater responsibility-Group Leader for the ...