On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, Docket No. L-863-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Rodriguez and LeWinn.
Plaintiff Susan Baader appeals from the January 22, 2010 order granting summary judgment and dismissing her complaint against defendant AT&T. We affirm.
Baader, an at will employee of AT&T from 1979 through June of 2006,
was involved in a car accident on September 29, 2005, and began a
short term disability leave of absence on October 7, 2005. MetLife,
AT&T's employee health insurance provider, certified Baader as
disabled and she "received short term disability benefits under the
AT&T Sickness and Accident Disability Benefit Plan for Occupational
Employees from October 7, 2005 through March 12, 2006."*fn1
She was absent from work from September 29, 2005 until June
29, 2006, when AT&T terminated her employment. At the time of her
termination, Baader was working as a reports clerk and receiving
positive reviews from her supervisor.
Baader was under the care of Dr. Lilia Bunales for injuries related to the accident during her leave. Dr. Bunales provided the initial medical opinion that Baader should be held out of work. Neurologist Dr. Youn K. Oh also treated Baader for injuries related to the car accident. Dr. Oh's notes and prescriptions for Baader indicated that Baader was disabled and unable to return to work before her appointment on June 22, 2006.
AT&T utilized MetLife to make all disability determinations and collect medical information from its employees. Only MetLife could advise AT&T employees about their benefits. Baader received a letter from MetLife dated March 13, 2006 stating that she was no longer certified to be out on disability and on March 31, 2006, MetLife terminated Baader's disability benefits for lack of documentation.
AT&T policy states that once MetLife had provided an estimated return to work date, the employee's supervisor should contact the employee and review the return to work date with her. Albert Corisdeo, Baader's supervisor, had no access to her medical information and had no ability to influence MetLife's disability determinations. On March 31, 2006, Corisdeo received an email from the MetLife case worker stating that the documentation provided by Baader did not support a disability claim.
On May 30, 2006, Corisdeo sent Baader a letter with language provided by the Human Resources department stating:
Since MetLife advised you to return to work as of March 13, 2006 and no documentation to support a claim of disability for your current absence has been submitted to MetLife, your claim as of March 31, 2006 has been placed in denied status by MetLife.
With the disability claim being denied, the expectation of the Company is that you should return to work by Monday, June 12, 2006.
If you feel there are other facts we should consider, please let me know, otherwise failure to return to work by June 12, 2006 will indicate your desire to and our acceptance of your resignation from AT&T.
Prior to receiving this letter, Baader called Corisdeo on June 1, 2006, to inform him that she was still experiencing residual effects from the accident and that she was appealing MetLife's decision to discontinue disability benefits. Corisdeo did not mention the ...