On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-3467-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued September 27, 2010
Before Judges Rodriguez, Grall and Miniman.
Plaintiff Marylynn Schiavi appeals from the summary judgment in favor of her former employer, defendant AT&T Corporation (AT&T), dismissing her complaint. AT&T cross-appeals from the partial denial of its claim for $19,948 in damages, attorney fees and costs. We conclude that there are several contested issues of material fact that preclude summary judgment. Thus, we reverse and remand to the Law Division for trial. The cross-appeal is dismissed as moot.
These are the material facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Schiavi. See Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 523 (1995). In August 1995, AT&T hired Schiavi as a manager in the public relations department. In June 2000, AT&T transferred Schiavi to work on a revenue recovery project. Schiavi did not like her new assignment. On August 13, 2000, Schiavi sent an e-mail to her supervisors and AT&T senior executives complaining about employee morale:
Hopefully, the morale of [co-workers] will change over time, but I must tell you many of the faces of my colleagues have been filled with sadness and despair, and several people even mentioned the only option being suicide. And they didn't say this in a joking manner.
AT&T Human Resources Manager, Maureen Brennan, met with Schiavi to determine which employees were at risk. Schiavi refused to identify them. Eventually, she recanted her statement, stating that her e-mail did not refer to anyone in particular. AT&T terminated Schiavi on August 21, 2000.
After numerous e-mails, Schiavi and Brennan agreed on the terms of a separation agreement (Agreement):
1. Employee understands and agrees that her employment with [AT&T] ended at the close of business on August 21, 2000 . . . and that she will not apply for or seek employment with the Company at any time thereafter.
4. Employee affirms her obligation to keep all proprietary Company information confidential and not to disclose it to any third-party. . . .
5. Employee and the Company each agree to refrain from disparagement of the other. This includes but is not limited to the following: Employee should direct inquiries from her prospective employers to Maureen Brennan. Ms. Brennan will relay to those prospective employers only that Employee resigned, the dates of Employee's employment, the position(s) held and her salary. . . .
6. Employee agrees to keep this Agreement confidential and not to disclose its contents to anyone except to her lawyer, her immediate family, her financial consultant or as otherwise required by law.
The Agreement also provides that AT&T would pay fifteen weeks of severance pay in the amount of $19,948 and distribute a notice regarding the resignation to Schiavi's former co-workers. Schiavi agreed to release AT&T from any claims arising out of her employment or termination and to return her severance ...