On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, L-1419-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Grall, C.L. Miniman and LeWinn.
Plaintiff Margaret Matejik was formerly employed by defendant New Jersey Department of Treasury (Department) and is now employed by the State's Office of Information Technology. She appeals from a grant of summary judgment in favor of the Department and a denial of her motion for partial summary judgment.*fn1
Plaintiff contends that the evidential materials submitted on cross-motions for summary judgment warranted judgment in her favor on her claim that the Department interfered with her exercise of rights under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C.S. §§ 2601 to 2119, and precluded an award of judgment in the Department's favor on her claim that it retaliated against her for exercising her rights under the FMLA, and discriminated against her based on disability in violation of New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42.*fn2 We conclude that the Department was not entitled to summary judgment and reverse.
The basic material facts are not in dispute. Plaintiff was hired by the State in 1999 and by January 2004 she was the supervisor of personnel records and the intermittent-payroll processing unit in the Department.*fn3 This case involves the period between January 2004 and November 2006, during which plaintiff's annual performance ratings were "exceptional."
In January 2004, there was a separate unit for regular payroll processing, which plaintiff did not supervise. At that time, she was suffering from migraine headaches that sometimes lasted for a day and other times for as many as fourteen days. Plaintiff sought treatment from her primary-care doctor and was referred to two different neurologists before returning to the care of her primary doctor. In the end, her primary doctor continued her on the medication both neurologists had prescribed. Plaintiff told her supervisor, Deborahann Westwood, and the head of the leave management unit, Lori Haggerty, about her condition.
While there are some factual disputes about plaintiff's conduct in the work place in 2004 and 2005, there is no dispute that plaintiff cried at work and on one occasion said she would like to "blow up the State House." During a subsequent meeting with Westwood and Douglas Ianni, of human resources, plaintiff explained that she was kidding. After that meeting, Westwood did not believe that plaintiff intended to do harm to the State House or any state employee.
Plaintiff later wrote an email to both Westwood and Ianni in which she stated, it "is very sad to me that someone took me seriously" and "I now know that I cannot trust those that I work with." Three days later, Ianni sent plaintiff a memo advising her that her remark was contrary to the Department's policy on work place violence and had to be taken seriously in present-day circumstances. He further explained that in accordance with departmental policy, he had scheduled an appointment for her with the Employee Advisory Service (EAS), which she missed due to her absence from work.
In his memo, Ianni raised other issues about plaintiff's conduct in the work place - her acting as if she were "miserable" and complaints received from a different division of the Department about plaintiff's dealings with members of its staff. He indicated that she was expected to conduct business in a professional and civil manner. Further, referencing plaintiff's report of stress she was experiencing because of her obligation to care for her ailing mother, Ianni reminded plaintiff of her option to take family leave or possibly seek a reduced work schedule.
In the final paragraphs of the memo, Ianni noted that based on plaintiff's email, he was confident that she understood the seriousness of her remark and "hopeful that it was an isolated event." He further clarified his position on her assertion that she could not trust her co-workers by stating, "[T]his is not an issue of trust between you and your co-workers. . . . [T]his matter was appropriately brought to my attention for action."
Westwood and plaintiff received that memo. Thereafter, plaintiff went to EAS once and was given a reference for services. Westwood and Ianni considered that matter closed. Subsequent emails, however, reflect that plaintiff complained about co-workers not liking her and about being held to a higher standard than others. Other emails indicated that co-workers complained about plaintiff. On March 14, 2006, Westwood advised plaintiff that she was questioning herself about whether plaintiff belonged in a supervisory position. Plaintiff responded by noting that Westwood did not want to hear what she had to say and always thought plaintiff was the problem.
On March 24, 2006, Ianni again sent a memo counseling plaintiff. This time he referenced what he believed was her insubordination and her conduct tending to alienate herself. He again recommended that she see EAS. Plaintiff asked Westwood to schedule an appointment with EAS but then cancelled it because she did not "feel" she "needed to go and . . . was not going to have somebody force [her] hand." About one week later, plaintiff called Westwood at her home on the weekend and told her she was going see a lawyer about harassment at work.
From April 11 through April 26, 2006, plaintiff was on medical leave she requested because of her migraines. Her primary-care doctor gave her a note dated April 10, 2006, indicating that she was under his care from April 11 through 24 and would be able to return to work on April 25. Plaintiff called Westwood at home on April 25 and reported that she had a virus and would not be able to come back to work until April 27. Westwood approved that extension of plaintiff's leave, and plaintiff reported for work on April 27.
On May 2, 2006, plaintiff visited Westwood's office as many as ten times. With an email to Allison Snyder, the Department's administrator of employee relations, and Ianni the next day, Westwood informed them that: plaintiff interrupted Westwood's meeting with another employee to leave slips on Westwood's desk; asked for assistance in completing a form; arrived crying with a "bright red" face to complain about other employees not "treat[ing] her right"; and stood in her doorway at the end of the day with two shopping bags "full of stuff" to say good bye. In Westwood's view, this behavior within four business days of plaintiff's return from leave was "extremely concerning" and disruptive. On the same day, Snyder stated that she had witnessed plaintiff's stomping back and forth the previous day, and ...