On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County, Docket No. L-184-08.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ashrafi, J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 26, 2011
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez, Sabatino and Ashrafi.
The opinion of the court was delivered by ASHRAFI, J.A.D.
Plaintiff Michael Senisch appeals from dismissal by summary judgment of his complaint alleging violations of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 to -8, and common law defamation and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage. We affirm.
Viewed most favorably to plaintiff, R. 4:46-2(c); Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995), the summary judgment record established the following relevant facts and procedural history.
Plaintiff was employed from 1995 through 2000 as a physician's assistant ("PA") in the cardiology department of defendant Deborah Heart and Lung Center ("Deborah"). During that time, he filed complaints with authorities both within and outside Deborah about conditions related to his employment. He alleged discrimination in the treatment of male PAs, and he also alleged violations of law pertaining to patient care and hospital record-keeping. Although plaintiff had received favorable performance reviews in his first years of employment at Deborah, his performance evaluation was unfavorable in 1999. A hospital committee rejected plaintiff's grievance appeal, and the negative evaluation remained in his personnel file as originally written.
Later in 1999, the Chair of the Department of Cardiology, Dr. Charles Dennis, personally evaluated plaintiff. By letters directed to plaintiff in December 1999 and January 2000, Dr. Dennis terminated his employment because of specifically stated deficiencies in his performance as a PA.
In 2001, plaintiff filed a lawsuit against Deborah alleging violations of CEPA and New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49. In January 2003, plaintiff and Deborah entered into a confidential settlement of that lawsuit. Plaintiff accepted payment of a sum of money and provided a release to Deborah. The settlement agreement expressly stated that it did "not constitute or reflect any violation of law or any legal obligation by any party." Also, it said nothing about modifying plaintiff's employment records.*fn1
In 2004, Memorial Hospital of Salem County requested from Deborah an employment reference for plaintiff. Deborah did not answer specific questions on a questionnaire sent from Memorial Hospital; it only provided plaintiff's dates of employment and position title. Plaintiff was hired as a PA in the emergency department of Memorial Hospital. In 2006, plaintiff resigned from Memorial Hospital to work as a PA for the Delaware Department of Corrections. Apparently, Deborah was not asked to provide a reference.
Later in 2006, plaintiff learned that Dr. Dennis was leaving Deborah. He applied for an open PA position in Deborah's Cardiothoracic Surgery Department. Defendant James Carlino, Deborah's Vice President of Human Resources, responded to plaintiff by email that "it would not be beneficial . . . to re-entertain [his] employment" because plaintiff "was virtually unhappy with every person [he] worked with at Deborah."
In 2007, plaintiff resigned from the Delaware Department of Corrections to work at a surgical orthopedic practice in Woodbury, New Jersey. The position required that he obtain his PA credentials at Underwood Memorial Hospital ("Underwood"). In February 2007, Underwood requested information from Deborah about plaintiff. A signed authorization stated that plaintiff "releases from liability . . . all individuals and organizations who provide information to the Hospital in good faith and without malice ...