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Carol Valentino v. the Borough of Woodcliff Lake

June 30, 2011


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-3182-08.

Per curiam.


Submitted: May 11, 2011

Before Judges Cuff and Fisher.

Plaintiff Carol Valentino, a former employee of defendant Borough of Woodcliff Lake (Borough), appeals from the order granting summary judgment to the Borough. Plaintiff alleged that the Borough Administrator terminated her after she called to his attention several incidents that she considered theft of time by other Borough employees, and she persisted in her efforts to have the Borough Administrator address these claims. The motion judge found that plaintiff failed to establish that she had suffered an adverse employment impact and granted the Borough's motion. We affirm.

We apply the same standard as the motion judge. Spring Creek Holding Co. v. Shinnihon U.S.A. Co., 399 N.J. Super. 158, 80 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 196 N.J. 85 (2008); Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Boylan, 307 N.J. Super. 162, 167 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 154 N.J. 608 (1998). Therefore, we must identify the undisputed facts and view the remaining facts and the inferences drawn from these facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 142 N.J. 520, 536 (1995).

Plaintiff commenced her employment for the Borough in August 2003 as an administrative secretary. In this capacity, she served as an assistant and secretary to both the Mayor and the Borough Administrator. Among her other responsibilities, plaintiff was required to "[t]rack all vacation, sick and unused sick time, and comp time for all employees; prepare monthly and annual reports." Specifically, plaintiff was required "to input time into a computer program from time cards filled out by the Borough employees. This was done to determine the pay thatthese employees received from the Borough and to ensure that they were working the proper hours."

Edward Sandve was hired as Borough Administrator in 2004 after Mayor LaPaglia was elected that same year.*fn1 Plaintiff was already employed by the Borough when Sandve became Administrator.

In November 2006, plaintiff believed some Borough employees were not accurately recording their work hours on their time cards. She brought this to the attention of Sandve. Plaintiff suggested a time clock should be implemented, and she expressed dissatisfaction with being put in a position that required her to confront other employees about the accuracy of their time cards.

A year later, on November 5, 2007, plaintiff again approached Sandve about the time card issue. Sandve had returned just the day before from several weeks on sick leave and November 5, 2007 was Election Day. She told Sandve "nothing had changed and . . . reminded him of [her suggestion to implement a time clock]." She also believed someone with authority should collect the cards because she was receiving "negativity from the employees throughout the process." On the same day, Sandve advised plaintiff that he would be working the polls on election day in her place. Although plaintiff had worked on general election days in the past, Sandve decided to replace her in 2007 because he was the deputy clerk. He explained that his service saved the Borough wages because he did not qualify for compensatory time as did plaintiff.

Soon after this meeting, plaintiff asserts that several employees at Borough Hall stopped speaking with her and assisting her at work. These employees included the Borough clerk, tax assessor, and another administrative employee. Plaintiff had accused each of these employees of stealing time by submitting time cards that overreported or mischaracterized the time they worked.

Plaintiff requested and received a meeting with the Mayor and Sandve about her concerns. The meeting took place on November 28, 2007. Plaintiff gave the Mayor a specific example of an employee falsifying time. Sandve responded that he had already corrected the issue. The Mayor was sufficiently concerned about plaintiff's allegations that he instructed Sandve to have the finance chairman of the Borough Council, John Glazer, investigate the allegations. Sandve became frustrated with plaintiff during this meeting, told her she was not the "time card police," told her she "was walking around like she ruled the roost" and "had changed."

Glazer investigated the allegations and the possibility of installing a time clock. Plaintiff met with Glazer on November 30, 2007. The Mayor supported the implementation of a time clock, but Sandve thought it unnecessary. Glazer reported that none of the employees "acted intentionally in seeking improper payment or was improperly paid. Nor was there a claim that the Administrator ever approved any such request for payment."

At the end of 2007, the Borough finished a process, begun two years earlier, of restructuring its staff and giving employees revised job descriptions. On December 19, 2007, each employee received a job description for their position with deletions and additions of job responsibilities visibly noted. Sandve requested each employee to review the job description carefully in anticipation of a further discussion with him. Plaintiff felt she could not realistically perform the new responsibilities. Instead of helping the employee responsible for issuance of dog and cat licenses, plaintiff would assume these duties. Plaintiff conceded that the Borough required residents to renew dog and cat licenses in January each year. Therefore, most of this activity occurred in January and certainly no later than March. ...

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