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Deborah Fitzpatrick and Litoria Wright v. County of Monmouth; Monmouth County Correctional

June 30, 2011


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



Before the Court are motions for summary judgment filed by Defendants the County of Monmouth ("Monmouth County") and Monmouth County Correctional Institution ("MCCI"), Defendant Warden William Fraser (the "Warden"), and Defendants Anthony Anderson and Patrick Panella. Plaintiffs Deborah Fitzpatrick and Litoria Wright (collectively, "Plaintiffs") oppose the motions. Also before the Court is Plaintiffs‟ cross motion to amend the Complaint. Defendants the Monmouth County and MCCI, as well as Proposed Defendant the Monmouth County Sheriff‟s Office (the "Sheriff"), oppose the cross motion. For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motions for summary judgment and deny Plaintiffs‟ motion to amend their Complaint.


In their Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs assert claims against Monmouth County and MCCI for discrimination, retaliation, and hostile workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000E et seq. ("Title VII"), the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981, as amended ("Section 1981"), and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq. ("NJLAD"), as well as claims for civil conspiracy and retaliation under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 39:19 et seq. ("CEPA"). They also assert claims against the Warden, Panella, and Anderson for discrimination, retaliation, and hostile workplace under Section 1981 and the NJLAD, as well as claims for civil conspiracy, retaliation under CEPA, and individual liability under the NJLAD.*fn1

The claims stem from alleged discriminatory behavior on the part of Defendants. Plaintiffs Wright and Fitzpatrick are both African American females who worked as corrections officers at the MCCI facility. As such, they were members of the Defendant the New Jersey State Policemen‟s Benevolent Association, Inc. Local #240 (the "PBA"). Beginning in 2003, Fitzpatrick and Wright were allegedly subjected to racial and gender discrimination at MCCI, in the form of repeated denials for requests for overtime assignments, punitive reassignments, denial of fair and equitable vacation allowances, unwanted and unsolicited exposure of pornographic materials, and general harassment consisting of derisive taunts and persistent mocking. The alleged "ringleaders" of the general harassment suffered by the Plaintiffs appear to be Defendants Panella and Anderson, both white males corrections officers. Plaintiffs allege that the Warden "turned over many of his supervisory and administrative functions" to Panella and Anderson. (Compl. ¶ 19.) Therefore, according to Plaintiffs, and by virtue of their leadership positions with the PBA, Panella and Anderson "had the responsibility for determining and directing overtime assignments, vacation assignments, shift assignments, and to direct employees relative to other terms and conditions of employment." (Compl. ¶¶ 14, 15.)

In the Complaint, Plaintiffs recite a variety of episodes between March of 2006 and November 2007 demonstrating the discriminatory and hostile environment that existed at MCCI, most of which the Court will not address here. However, the Plaintiffs allege that they were removed from posts in favor of white male corrections officers, that they were reassigned to less desirable posts out of the rotation order in violation of PBA rules, that they were denied overtime assignments and PBA days*fn2 in a discriminatory fashion, that the Plaintiffs were continuously subjected to racial harassment, and were subjected to retaliation for routinely submitting written reports complaining of harassment by white, male co-workers and supervisors. Specifically, Fitzpatrick alleges that Panella and Anderson repeatedly taunted her, telling Plaintiff that she was "stupid" and a "monkey," and at times even imitating chimpanzees and monkeys when she entered the dining hall. (Compl. ¶¶ 37-39.)

The Plaintiffs also allege that the PBA acted arbitrarily towards them. For example, Fitzpatrick made an errant comment comparing the Union to "gang-type behavior." Fitzpatrick was disciplined for expressing this opinion. (Compl. ¶ 34.) In addition, on November 30, 2007, Fitzpatrick received a letter from Panella that she had been suspended as a member of the PBA, stating ""charges would be brought in the near future.‟" (Compl. ¶ 47.) All of Fitzpatrick‟s PBA benefits were suspended since that time, although her dues continued to be deducted from her paycheck.

The terms and conditions of the Plaintiffs‟ employment are covered by the collective bargaining agreement between MCCI and the PBA, which states that neither MCCI nor the PBA will discriminate against any employee on the basis of, inter alia, race or gender. (Compl. ¶ 134.) Under Article 25 of the agreement, grievances regarding discrimination should "be submitted to the appropriate administrative agency having jurisdiction over the subject matter of the Complaint." (Defs.‟ Mot. Dismiss, Ex. B at 38.)

Defendants filed their motions for summary judgment on January 14, 2011. Plaintiffs opposed each motion, and filed a cross motion to amend their Complaint to include the Monmouth County Sheriff‟s Office as an additional party. The Court decides the motions without oral argument as provided in Fed. R. Civ. P. 78.


To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party must establish "that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The district court must determine whether disputed issues of material fact exist, but the court cannot resolve factual disputes in a motion for summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986).

In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and extend all reasonable inferences to that party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986); Stephens v. Kerrigan, 122 F.3d 171, 176-77 (3d Cir. 1997). The moving party always bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a ...

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