On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Docket No. L-399-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Grall and LeWinn.
Plaintiff Steven E. Centofanti filed a complaint seeking damages from his employer for alleged violations of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 to -8 (CEPA) and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42 (LAD). Centofanti appeals from a grant of summary judgment in favor of his employers and supervisors, defendants Bojczuk Enterprises, Stefan Bojczuk, and Markian Hamulak.*fn1 The trial judge granted summary judgment because she concluded that Centofanti could not establish that he was terminated - an essential element of both claims.
We conclude that Centofanti's evidence was adequate to raise a genuine dispute of material fact as to termination. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
Defendant Stefan Bojczuk owns and operates the Days Inn of Bridgewater (the Inn) through Bojczuk Enterprises. The business was established by Stefan's father and left to Stefan in his father's will.
Centofanti was hired as the Inn's chief engineer in September 20, 2004, about one month before Stefan's father died. Joseph Bencivenga, the Inn's general manager, described Centofanti as an "excellent employee in job performance as well as guest services" and "very experienced in all areas of the hotel." Although Centofanti was never given written notice of any problem with his job performance, in early October 2005, Centofanti left work for three weeks after he and Stefan argued about leaking pipes. He took vacation time, returned and then resumed his work as chief engineer.
It is not clear whether Stefan was managing the Inn when Centofanti returned to work. Following the death of Stefan's father, Stefan's step-siblings challenged the will and alleged that Stefan was misusing and misappropriating the Inn's property and funds. John Richardson, Esq. was appointed by the court to administer the estate, and the judge subsequently granted Richardson's application to bar Stefan from managing the Inn pending an investigation and review by a forensic accountant.
Centofanti, aware of the will contest, contacted Richardson to report theft and other conduct by Stefan that he thought unlawful. Richardson arranged for Centofanti to be deposed in late October 2005. During his deposition, Centofanti said that Stefan employed family members and allowed them to falsify time records; purchased goods for his personal use with the Inn's credit card; assigned the Inn's employees to do work at his home on company time; and used the Inn's petty cash to pay personal bills.
Bencivenga was deposed in November 2005. Like Centofanti, he testified about Stefan's misappropriation of the Inn's assets.
Stefan was aware of Centofanti's complaint to Richardson. On November 30, 2005, Stefan filed pleadings in the will contest attacking Richardson's allegations against him by asserting that they "were based on a statement that he received from Steven Centofanti, a disgruntled former employee who quit after being reprimanded by Stefan." In response, Richardson relied on the deposition testimony given by Centofanti and Bencivenga.
On December 12, 2005, while Stefan was barred from managing the Inn, Centofanti was given a $2000 raise.
On January 5, 2006, Stefan and his step-siblings reached a settlement in the will contest, which required Stefan to make certain payments to them. The same day, the restraints against Stefan's involvement in the Inn's affairs were lifted. Stefan was at the Inn on January 5, 2006, and saw ...