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Juan Barroso v. New Jersey Transit Corp.

January 13, 2011

JUAN BARROSO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW JERSEY TRANSIT CORP., POLICE CHIEF JOSEPH C. BOBER, DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This is a civil rights action in which plaintiff alleges that he was unlawfully suspended and then fired due to his race, ancestry and ethnic characteristics. Defendants New Jersey Transit Corporation and former Police Chief Joseph Bober ("Defendants") deny this, and instead claim that plaintiff was suspended and fired because of legitimate business reasons. Each defendant moves for summary judgment. Pursuant to Rule 78.1 of the Local Rules, the motions are decided without oral argument.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Juan Barroso is a Hispanic male. He has worked in law enforcement since 1988 and began employment with defendant New Jersey Transit Corporation (the "NJTC") in 2002. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Defendant Joseph Bober was, during all relevant periods, the Chief of Police for the NJTC. (Compl. ¶ 4.) Barroso was suspended by Chief Bober on June 1, 2004, after Barroso was arrested by the Hoboken Police. (Compl. ¶¶ 17, 20.) Bober terminated Barroso‟s employment with the NJTC on May 24, 2007. (Compl. ¶ 24.)

Barroso‟s suspension and termination trace their origins to two events that took place in May 2004. On May 15, 2004, Barroso accompanied his girlfriend, Wilnelia DeJesus, to pick up her children from their grandmother, Merida DeJesus. Wilnelia had recently regained custody of her children. (Compl. ¶¶ 10, 13, NJTC Statement of Fact ¶ 11.) While moving the children‟s belongings out of Merida‟s house, Wilnelia asked Merida for the children‟s bank account passbooks. (Compl. ¶ 14.) While Merida gave the passbooks to Wilnelia, she would later claim that she gave up the passbooks because she was scared that Barroso would report her to the police. (Compl. ¶ 17.)

Two days later, Barroso accompanied Wilnelia to a bank. Wilnelia withdrew money from the children‟s passbook accounts. (Compl. ¶ 16.) Merida then contacted the police alleging that the money had been withdrawn from the accounts improperly. (Compl. ¶ 17.) Barroso was arrested for Theft by Deception and later entered into a Pre-Trial Intervention Program without pleading guilty. (Compl. ¶¶ 17, 18.) After Barroso reported his arrest and entrance into a Pre-Trial Intervention Program to the NJTC, the NJTC charged him with "conduct unbecoming of a police officer." (Compl. ¶ 19.) On June 1, 2004, Barroso was suspended without pay. (Compl. ¶ 19.)

Barroso‟s "conduct unbecoming of a police officer" charge was addressed during a trial before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Compl. ¶ 21.) At the completion of the hearing, the ALJ ordered that Barroso be reinstated with back pay. (Compl. ¶ 23.) The Office of the state Attorney General, which represented the NJTC police department in the hearing, filed written exceptions to the Judge‟s findings and conclusions. (Bober‟s Statement of Fact ¶ 7, Pl. Resp. to Bober‟s Statement of Fact ¶ 7.) Swayed by the Attorney General‟s arguments, Chief Bober rejected the Judge‟s findings and conclusions. And instead of reinstating Barroso, on May 24, 2007, Bober terminated Barroso‟s employment with NJTC. (NJTC‟s Statement of Fact ¶ 27.)

Barroso appealed Bober‟s decision to the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division, (Bober‟s Statement of Fact ¶ 10, Pl. Resp. to Bober‟s Statement of Fact ¶ 10,) and filed this action alleging that his suspension and termination were a result of racial animus. (Compl. ¶ 24.) On April 22, 2009, the Appellate Division reversed Bober‟s determination and ordered that Barroso be reinstated to his former position. (Bober‟s Statement of Fact ¶ 10, Pl. Resp. to Bober‟s Statement of Fact ¶ 10.) On May 20, 2009, Barroso was reinstated. (NJTC‟s Statement of Fact ¶ 39.) Two days later, Barroso was suspended as being unfit for duty. (Id. at ¶ 40.)

While Barroso‟s case was pending, he applied for disability retirement. (NJTC‟s Statement of Fact ¶ 22.) He claimed that he had "End stages of Liver Disease, chronic fatigue, sever (sic) depression, [was] unable to make rational decision, [and suffered from] panic disorder and anxiety attacks." (Id.) His application also noted that Barroso was totally and permanently disabled and no longer able to perform his duties. (Id.) Barroso later filed a second Application for Disability Retirement, which similarly stated that he was totally and permanently disabled. (NJTC Br. Ex. 10.) Barroso later withdrew the application. (NJTC‟s Statement of Fact ¶ 25.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party establishes that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that [it] is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). A factual dispute between the parties will not defeat a motion for summary judgment unless it is both genuine and material. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The moving party must show that the non-moving party has failed to "set forth," by affidavits or otherwise, "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." See Beard v. Banks, 548 U.S. 521, 529 (2006) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)).

Once the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts" in question. Scott, 550 U.S. at 380 (citing Matsushita Elec. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986)). At the summary judgment stage, the court‟s function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In so doing, the court must construe the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 277 (3d Cir. 2002). To survive a motion for summary judgment, a non-movant must present more than a mere "scintilla of evidence" in his favor. ...


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