On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-1468-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted May 10, 2011 - Decided
Before Judges Payne and Wefing.
Defendant, Jorge Pinillos, appeals a verdict of $50,000 in undifferentiated compensatory and punitive damages entered against him and in favor of plaintiff, Donna Conklin, following a bench trial on charges of sexual assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The record reveals that, on May 24, 2007, plaintiff, Donna Conklin, an administrative assistant employed by Advanced Digital Data, was told to take documents to the company's shipping room for overnight delivery. Once there, she claims that she was grabbed by defendant, the shipping room supervisor, who, three times, kissed or attempted to kiss her on the cheek, and also grabbed her buttocks. After plaintiff broke free, she reported defendant's conduct to her employer, and defendant was fired the next day. Additionally, plaintiff filed a criminal complaint against defendant, resulting in a charge of fourth-degree sexual contact that was resolved through pre-trial intervention (PTI). Plaintiff also filed the civil action against defendant that is the subject of this appeal.
Plaintiff testified at the trial. Testimony was also given on her behalf by her husband and by psychologist Jacob Steinberg, Ph.D. Dr. Steinberg testified on the basis of his evaluation of plaintiff's condition one year prior to trial and then on the evening before trial that as the result of defendant's conduct, plaintiff was suffering from an adjustment reaction with mixed emotional features including some anxiety as well as some depression. Additionally, when plaintiff took the stand, she claimed to have developed extremely high blood pressure requiring prescription medication for its control as the result of the event, stating as proof of causation that the condition arose after the sexual contact had taken place. However, no medical expert confirmed that a causal connection existed between the medical condition and defendant's conduct.
Defendant, who appeared pro se, testified on his own behalf through an interpreter. He admitted to having tried to kiss plaintiff, but stated that he had done so after plaintiff flirted with him. Defendant additionally testified that plaintiff's reaction to his conduct arose from her desire to obtain an after-hour cleaning job for herself and her husband that had recently been awarded to defendant and his wife. On cross-examination, defendant was asked multiple questions about his alleged plea of guilty to the "criminal charge of assault." Defendant's responses were vague and contradictory. The following exchange took place:
Q Were you given a criminal charge of assault?
A Yes, that was a negotiated plea with attorneys, but I never - I never gave a statement [to the police].
Q I know you didn't give a statement. Did you admit to the underlying facts in this courthouse that you impermissibly touch[ed] Mrs. Conklin?
A That was negotiated by my attorney and in fact I didn't agree. (Witness & interpreter talking at same time) - a shoulder touch and the cheek. Q Did you through your attorney plead guilty to assault?
A He suggested that to me.
Q Did you then tell the Judge in court what you - made you ...