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Janet Powell v. Haddon Township

March 7, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez


This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants. Oral argument on the motion was heard on February 29, 2012, and the record of that proceeding is incorporated here. For the reasons placed on the record that day, and those articulated below, the motion will be granted.


Plaintiff Janet Powell filed the Complaint in this matter on October 30, 2009 alleging age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, discrimination based on political affiliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:6-1, and civil conspiracy by Plaintiff's former employer, Haddon Township, and three Township officials. At oral argument, Plaintiff's attorney relinquished the conspiracy claim.*fn1

Plaintiff was employed at the Haddon Township Public Works Department from October 1990 until December 31, 2007. (Def. Br., Ex. A.) She started as a part-time clerk, and was promoted to senior clerk effective July 1, 2002. (Id.) In 2005 and 2006, due to the illness of Dispatcher Al Boenning, Plaintiff performed her duties, as well as those of her ill co-worker. As a result, she received a bonus of $3,000 in 2006. (Powell Dep., p. 44.) Plaintiff's salary was approximately $34,000 per year, plus benefits.

In May of 2007, Randall Teague was elected Mayor of Haddon Township; he took office the same month. Defendants Foley and Dougherty were also elected Commissioners in May of 2007. On November 8, 2007, when Plaintiff was 59 years old, she was notified by letter that her position was to be eliminated effective December 31, 2007 as a cost saving measure. (Def. Br., Ex. B.)

On November 29, 2007, the Township posted a job opening for an office manager in the Public Works Department, to be paid $40,000 per year. Plaintiff alleges that the job responsibilities listed were essentially the same as those that she had been performing.*fn2 Plaintiff applied for the position, but was not interviewed. Instead, a forty-one year old woman, Barbara Prince, was hired for the office manager position. Plaintiff alleges that the woman and her husband were political supporters of the new mayor, while Plaintiff did not reside in the Township and was not politically active. Defendants acknowledge that the woman's husband was among a group of people who put up political signs for Teague, but deny any further involvement in the campaign by the couple.

On April 2, 2008, the Public Works Department hired a forty-seven year old woman, Betty Brooks, as a full-time temporary employee. (Def. Br., Ex. G, Band Aff.) Brooks was hired when another employee was on medical leave; she was the only person who applied for the job. (Id.) When the ill employee died, Brooks was hired on a permanent basis on July 1, 2008. (Id.)

Finally, Plaintiff asserts that the new office manager was paid an additional $8,000 to serve as recycling coordinator, when Plaintiff and a co-worker had performed the duties of a recycling coordinator for no additional pay.

Defendants now move for summary judgment on the entirety of Plaintiff's Complaint. They argue that Plaintiff's position of senior clerk and other positions in the Township were eliminated for economic reasons.*fn3 They also contend that Defendants created the position of Public Works office manager to gain accountability in that department, and that position has many more responsibilities than Plaintiff performed as a senior clerk. Defendants further state that they had no knowledge of Plaintiff's political affiliation; Plaintiff and Defendants never even spoke. They also point out that Foley is a Republican, Dougherty is a Democrat, and Teague has been unaffiliated with any political party since prior to 2000.

Summary Judgment Standard "Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471, 482 n.1 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, (1986)); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The Court will enter summary judgment in favor of a movant who shows that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and supports the showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (1)(A).

An issue is "genuine" if supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.; Maidenbaum v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 870 F. Supp. 1254, 1258 (D.N.J. 1994). Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256--57. "A nonmoving party may not 'rest upon mere allegations, general denials or . . . vague statements . . . .'" Trap Rock Indus., Inc. v. Local 825, Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Quiroga v. Hasbro, Inc., 934 F.2d 497, 500 (3d Cir. 1991)). Indeed, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. That is, the movant can support the assertion that a fact cannot be genuinely disputed by showing that "an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the [alleged dispute of] fact." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. ...

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