On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-2926-08.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ashrafi, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fuentes, Ashrafi and Newman.
The opinion of the court was delivered by ASHRAFI, J.A.D.
Plaintiff Cecelia Mavica Ingraham appeals from a December 3, 2010 order dismissing by summary judgment her complaint alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress. We affirm.
Viewing the evidence most favorably to plaintiff, see R. 4:46-2(c); Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995), the deposition of plaintiff and unrefuted evidence in the summary judgment record show the following relevant facts.
Plaintiff was employed from 1994 to 2006 by defendant Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical. In 2006, she was working as an administrative assistant in a marketing department at defendant's Raritan facility. Plaintiff's immediate supervisors reported to defendant Carl DeStefanis, the director of the department. Plaintiff had infrequent contact with DeStefanis, "usually a simple 'Hello, how are you' type of interaction."
In 2003, plaintiff's only child, Tatiana, then in her third year of high school, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Tatiana was an excellent student with bright prospects. She was a member of the National Honor Society, National Latin Society, and National Art Society. She was accepted to Cornell University and planned to study biology as a pre-med student. She had also studied at the New Jersey School of Ballet, but was unable to continue dancing when her illness occurred. After several months in remission, Tatiana relapsed in April 2005. She developed an incurable infection and, sadly, passed away in May 2005. Her high school graduated her posthumously with top honors.
Plaintiff's mourning was deep and enduring. To honor the memory of her daughter, plaintiff kept pictures of Tatiana and her ballet slippers displayed in her cubicle at work.
About one-and-a-half years after Tatiana's death, a human resources manager at Ortho-McNeill, Carmen Harris, met with DeStefanis to convey complaints she had received about plaintiff's conduct and interaction with co-workers. Several of those complaints were unrelated to Tatiana, but administrative staff in the department had also remarked about plaintiff's tendency to speak to them about Tatiana's tragic passing. The co-workers said they sympathized with plaintiff, but they felt uncomfortable and at a loss for "what else that we can say that we have not said already." The co-workers said they tended to avoid contact with plaintiff and to take work or questions elsewhere. Harris suggested that DeStefanis talk to plaintiff to get her side of the complaints and to discuss her initiating conversations about Tatiana and its effect on her co-workers. DeStefanis agreed to speak with plaintiff.
On Friday, November 17, 2006, DeStefanis met with plaintiff at four o'clock in the afternoon. They were alone in a human resources conference room. Once seated, DeStefanis told plaintiff he had several complaints concerning her speaking of her daughter and displaying pictures, and that the pictures needed to be removed. Upon hearing this, plaintiff became very upset. She testified in deposition that she started shaking. Plaintiff said to DeStefanis that she did not understand, and DeStefanis repeated that there were complaints about plaintiff's pictures and her daughter's ballet slippers, and they had to be taken down from her cubicle.
Plaintiff protested that she works with highly educated people and did not understand that they could not tolerate pictures of her daughter or the fact that she was a depressed, grieving mother. DeStefanis said again that the pictures had to be taken down because it was a disruption in the workplace, and people were avoiding her. DeStefanis also said that plaintiff could "no longer speak of [her] daughter because she is dead." Plaintiff felt hysterical. She told DeStefanis that "Tatiana was a very beautiful human being and everyone that met her was honored and blessed." She asked if DeStefanis was telling her to "act [as] if she did not exist." DeStefanis answered "yes."
Plaintiff was in shock and disbelief. She asked DeStefanis who was complaining, but he would not give names. She asked if the problem was her work performance, and he replied it was not. DeStefanis then said: "If you have the need or urge to talk about her ...