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Carrie Johnson v. New Jersey Department of Corrections

October 28, 2011

CARRIE JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, AND DEVON BROWN, COMMISSIONER, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, Docket No. L-1606-07.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted September 13, 2011 -

Before Judges Fisher, Baxter and Nugent.

Plaintiff Carrie Johnson, an African-American woman who had been employed by defendant Department of Corrections in many positions since 1977, most recently as Assistant Commissioner of the Division of Programs and Community Service, appeals the summary judgment -- entered in favor of the Department, as well as in favor of defendant Devon Brown, the Department's Commissioner -- dismissing her discrimination complaint. After close examination of the record and the issues, we conclude that plaintiff's contention that she was terminated because her employment was apolitical was unsupported by law and fact. And her factual presentation was so inadequate as to fail to give rise, as a matter of law, to an inference of discrimination not only because Brown, who made the decision to terminate her employment, is also African-American, but also because plaintiff was immediately replaced by an African-American woman.

The record reveals that Brown terminated plaintiff's relationship with the Department in September 2005. Defendants asserted that termination was warranted because plaintiff had utilized inmates at East Jersey State Prison to make floral arrangements for a luncheon for 600 members of plaintiff's sorority. Following the termination, plaintiff filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and later, on June 28, 2007, commenced this action. The complaint, and its later amendments, alleged that, because of her age, race, gender, and political affiliation, plaintiff was subjected to retaliation and reprisals in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42, the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:6-1 to -2, and common law and constitutional principles. At the conclusion of a period of discovery, the Department and Brown filed summary judgment motions, which plaintiff opposed. The trial judge granted both motions for reasons contained in an oral opinion.

Plaintiff appealed, presenting the following arguments for our consideration:

I. THE DISMISSAL OF [PLAINTIFF'S] STATE CIVIL RIGHTS CLAIMS CONTRADICTS THE PLAIN MEANING OF THE NEW JERSEY CIVIL RIGHTS STATUTE.

II. THE DISMISSAL OF [PLAINTIFF'S] LAD CLAIMS UNDERMINES THE BROAD REMEDIAL PURPOSES OF THE LAD TO HOLD THE NJDOC AND ITS COMMISSIONER ACCOUNTABLE FOR ENSURING THAT ITS EMPLOYEES ARE NOT DISCRIMINATED AGAINST.

III. MIXED MOTIVES.[*fn1 ]

IV. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED BY FINDING THAT DEVON BROWN COULD NOT AID AND ABET THE

DISCRIMINATORY CONDUCT OF INDIVIDUALS WHO WERE NOT NAMED AS DEFENDANTS.

V. THE DOC AND DEVON BROWN VIOLATED PUBLIC POLICY BY TERMINATING PLAINTIFF'S EMPLOYMENT BECAUSE OF HER ASSOCIATION, OR LACK THEREOF, WITH CERTAIN STATE OFFICIALS.

VI. THE COURT ERRED BY REINSTATING THE ANSWER AND DEFENSES OF DEFENDANT NJDOC AND THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, WITHOUT MONETARY SANCTIONS, ABSENT THEIR ...


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