On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, L-1368-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 4, 2010 Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez, Grall and LeWinn.
Plaintiff Candice Duncan appeals from the November 20, 2009 order granting summary judgment and dismissing all of her claims against defendants Verizon and Verizon employees Jeffrey McFarland, Mary Foster, Patricia Foster, Cecilia Meade, Thomas Crowder and Marquita Carter. We affirm.
DUNCAN'S FACTUAL ASSERTIONS
The following material facts are viewed in the light most favorable to Duncan. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). Duncan, an African American woman, began working for Verizon as a sales consultant in June 2000. In April 2006, Duncan began working as an executive assistant for defendant McFarland, Verizon's Marketing Director. At the time, defendant Crowder was the Marketing Group's Vice President. Cecilia Meade was his executive assistant.
Approximately a week after Duncan began working for McFarland, she attended a three-day team meeting in Florida. There she met Prentice Parrish, a fellow Verizon employee. He suggested to Duncan and other Verizon employees that they all "go to dinner" if he was "ever in New Jersey."
In September 2006, Duncan, Parrish, McFarland, and another employee, Robin Brown, attended a Verizon-sponsored event for the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) at a nightclub in Washington, D.C. At one point during the event, Parrish placed his hand on Duncan's lower back and said "you know I've liked you since Florida", and "I'm feeling you." Duncan told Parrish that she was engaged and "happy at home." Parrish responded, "you can't blame a brother for trying." Duncan did not find Parrish's behavior objectionable.
Nonetheless, McFarland learned of the incident from Brown who was seated nearby and called Duncan that same day to discuss it. According to Duncan, McFarland told her that Parrish had a number of questionable credit card charges. He also said, "I'm going to call and report this to the ethics [unit] and have a security investigation started." Then he said, "[n]ow I need you to go along with me on this because - and I'll take care of you." Duncan did not report McFarland's request to the compliance manager who handled a subsequent investigation regarding Parrish's behavior at the CBC.
Shortly after the CBC event Parrish initiated the following instant message exchange with Duncan:
Prentice: hey - can I call you?
Duncan: I am about to get on a call in 1 minute . . . whats up?
Prentice: 2 things. first, i was disappointed that we didn't kick it at CBC. I really wanted to feel you out a little bit more since we don't talk that much. Second, i wanted to know where [McFarland] is today. i need to call him.
Candice: He is on travel. so you cant talk to him. . . . and i told you i am engaged and i am REALLY happy at home.
Prentice: I remember. I'm not a home wrecker. just wanted to talk.
Six months later Duncan met with McFarland for her annual performance review. According to Duncan, McFarland told her that she "was marked P for performing because only one person could be the lead in the admin pool and that was Cecilia [Meade]. He said we all agree she's performing above par and I had to get P for performing." McFarland also complained that his travel arrangements were pushed aside while Duncan worked for others; that she failed to enter time reports in a timely fashion; and that her payroll paperwork was not completed. According to Duncan, McFarland "was never happy about anything. . . He was unhappy if I bought him a ham sandwich, even though he asked me for it."
Another manager, defendant Carter, also had problems with Duncan's performance. At one point Carter accused Duncan of causing her to be late to a meeting because Duncan failed to accurately manage her calendar. Carter and other managers were also unhappy because Duncan failed to timely handle expense reports, which caused their corporate credit cards to incur late fees. According to Duncan, she "never got around to it" because she had too much other work to do. Duncan's own corporate card was cancelled because Duncan never paid the late fees, despite being instructed to do so.
Duncan got married and returned to work on July 19, 2007. On August 29, 2007, Duncan started calling in sick. She stayed out of work until November 5, 2007. According to procedure, Duncan emailed her managers the first five days of her absence to notify them that she was sick. Duncan did not email again after the first few days because she stated that "at that point you're on short-term disability." After the sixth day of Duncan's absence, McFarland called Duncan several times. She did not answer his calls or listen to her voicemail. Duncan called Kristal Wilson, a human resources manager, to report that McFarland was calling her. Wilson told her that she should call McFarland back. McFarland requested that Security initiate an absence fraud investigation after he conducted a routine home visit to confirm that Duncan was ill but found that she was not home.
On September 13, 2007, Duncan went to a Chinese restaurant for take-out lunch. On the way, McFarland called her five times on her cell phone. While at the restaurant, she saw McFarland outside. They made eye contact and McFarland went into the barber shop next door. After Duncan left the restaurant, she encountered McFarland when he pulled up next to her car at a traffic light. They rolled down their car windows to talk and McFarland told her that he needed to speak to her about work related issues. Duncan called McFarland the next day. In a telephone conversation the following day, McFarland asked Duncan when she would be returning to work.
On September 26, 2007, Duncan called Verizon's Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) hotline to report that McFarland followed her to the Chinese restaurant and kept calling her personal cell phone number. She also complained that Williams told McFarland that Duncan had called her to ask whether it was appropriate for a manager to call her at home, despite the fact that Williams told Duncan she would keep the conversation confidential. Duncan also reported the incident at the CBC with Parrish. She said that McFarland encouraged her to lie to Security about what transpired. However, Duncan did not complain about a hostile work environment.
On November 9, 2007, Duncan was interviewed by an ethics manager. Duncan said that she had "cried every day since this all began and that she was afraid of being retaliated against." She said that many people in the office were aware of the absence fraud investigation and that Meade and another employee were questioning others about her whereabouts.
Duncan also alleged that when she first began working for McFarland, he told her that "[w]hen you come in, even before you take off your coat you are to go into my office and make it look like I am here." She further alleged that McFarland, Carter, and Crowder engaged in a pattern of violating the expense ...