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Garrett M. Miller v. Pfizer

July 28, 2011

GARRETT M. MILLER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PFIZER, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on motion for summary judgment by Defendant Pfizer, Inc. ("Pfizer" or "Defendant") [docket entry 50]. Plaintiff Garrett M. Miller ("Plaintiff") has opposed the motion. The Court has opted to rule based on the papers submitted and without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will grant Defendant's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

This action arose out of Plaintiff's termination from employment with Pfizer on August 3, 2007, which he alleges was an act of religious discrimination based on his born-again Christian beliefs. Defendant denies the religious discrimination claim and maintains that Plaintiff's termination came after an exhaustive and thorough investigation into Plaintiff's repeated inappropriate and offensive comments to his subordinates.

Pfizer, in its commitment to maintain a work environment free from harassment, maintains policies prohibiting any verbal or physical harassment regarding the racial, ethnic, religious, physical or sexual characteristics, or sexual orientation of another. In particular, these policies prohibit an employee from creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment, or from unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance. Pfizer's Business Conduct and Harassment Policies instruct an employee to report any concerns involving discrimination and/or harassment to either their manager, Human Resources, or the Corporate Compliance Group for investigation. Individuals determined to have engaged in acts of harassment and/or discrimination can be subject to corrective action that may include termination of employment. Behavior constituting discrimination and harassment and the internal reporting and disciplining structure are set forth for employees in Pfizer's Business Conduct Policy which all employees receive and have access to throughout their employment.

Plaintiff began work at Pfizer on June 18, 1989 as a Sales Representative. During his 18 year tenure with the company, Plaintiff received a number of promotions and, as a District Manager in 2007, he maintained supervisory responsibility over a team of approximately 10 representatives. In or about May 2007, Mary Ann Grommisch ("Grommisch"), a member of Plaintiff's team, complained to John Dalton ("Dalton"), her former District Manager with Pfizer, of inappropriate comments made by Plaintiff to her and other co-workers regarding sexual orientation, race, religion, and gender. The comments include:

"I can't believe there are Jews in Paterson" (Def.'s SOF at 10, May 16, 2011); C "Jehovah's witnesses in Paterson and [whether] they were a cult" (Id.); He has "no respect for gays and lesbians" (Id.); He wanted to hire a male for a sales representative position on his team (Id.); C Concerns having mixed race children (Id.); Concerns regarding having children in an interfaith marriage (Id. at 11); C Advising a female sales representative to "have [her] administrative house in order before having children" (Id.); Management would not look favorably upon paternity leave (Id.); and C Problems a male might have if he stayed home to raise his children (Id.).

After Grommisch spoke with Dalton about these comments, Maura DeLeo, Director of Human Resources, became involved and appointed Kerry Sorvino ("Sorvino"), Director of Employee Relations, to conduct an investigation. Sorvino promptly interviewed a number of current and former representatives supervised by Plaintiff, many of who confirmed the above-mentioned comments that Plaintiff made to members of the team. Sorvino interviewed Plaintiff over the telephone on five separate occasions about the remarks attributed to him and Plaintiff admitted making many of the complained of statements.

Following the conclusion of Sorvino's investigation, she recommended that Plaintiff be terminated because his comments "created an uncomfortable workplace for employees and violated Pfizer policies, values, and leader behaviors." (Id. at 15.) On July 16, 2007, the matter was presented to Pfizer's employee relations panel, comprised of representatives from Pfizer's Human Resources Department. The panel made a recommendation to Plaintiff's business unit, who was vested with the final decisionmaking authority regarding potential discipline, that Plaintiff be fired. After discussing the employee relations panel's recommendations and other potential corrective action, Plaintiff's supervisors, James Kamovitch and Bruce Fleischmann, decided to fire Plaintiff because of his "inappropriate and discriminatory remarks; [his] continued failure to recognize the inappropriate and discriminatory nature of his remarks; and [his] failure to show accountability for the [remarks]." (Id. at 16.)

As a result, Plaintiff filed the Complaint on June 30, 2009, alleging that Defendant violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD") when it discriminated against Plaintiff based on his religious beliefs by wrongfully terminating him and by implementing compensation policies that are more favorable to non-born-again Christians.*fn1 Defendant now moves for summary judgment.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate under FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a) when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the evidence establishes the moving party's entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence ...


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