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Ugorji O. Ugorji v. New Jersey Environmental (Jei/Js

May 29, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas


IRENAS, Senior District Judge:

Plaintiff is a United States citizen of Nigerian descent who initiated this action against his employer, the New Jersey Environmental Infrastructure Trust ("NJEIT"), and several of its officers, including Robert Briant, Sr., Chairman of the NJEIT Board of Trustees; Dennis Hart, NJEIT Executive Director; Frank Scangarella, NJEIT's Chief Operating Officer (collectively the "Individual Defendants"). Plaintiff seeks to recover for alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.*fn1

Pending before the Court are Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant NJEIT and by the Individual Defendants Briant, Hart, and Scangarella.*fn2


Plaintiff first became an employee of NJEIT in 1996 as an Administrative Assistant 2 ("AA2") with an annual salary of $43,458.99.*fn3 (Ind. Defs' 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 16-17, 26.)*fn4 To date, Plaintiff remains employed as an AA2 at NJEIT with an annual salary of $77,863.84. (Id. at ¶¶ 17, 19, 26.) An AA2 "[a]ssists a division director in a state department, institution, or agency by performing and coordinating administrative support services; does related work as required." (Id. ¶ 28). This position includes duties such as filing and scanning documents and invoices, maintaining inventory, filing bank statements, conducting seminar surveys, and performing vehicle maintenance. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.) Plaintiff possesses a doctorate degree in education administration and believes that his "skills and experience were not being fully utilized" by the AA2 position, which does not require a doctorate degree. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33; Yi Cert. Ex. B at 85-86.)

On March 2, 2001, Plaintiff filed a Complaint with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights alleging employment discrimination based on national origin against NJEIT. (Id. ¶

34.) On November 16, 2006, Plaintiff executed a Settlement Agreement and Release, wherein Plaintiff agreed to withdraw his Complaint and permanently waive and release any and all present and future claims that were brought, or could have been brought, by [Plaintiff] against the State of New Jersey or any of its departments, or components of such departments including specifically, but not exclusively, the [DEP], [NJEIT] and/or any of its employees, divisions and/or agents in connection with the above-captioned Verified Complaint, including, but not limited to, attorney's fees and costs, claims for monetary damages, back pay, compensatory time, grievances, unfair labor practices and/or discrimination or retaliation claims, in any forum. (Id. ¶ 37; Yi Cert. Ex. 8.) The Release included "all claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act" and "all claims involving any continuing effects of actions or practices which arose prior to the date of [the] General Release and bars the use in any way of any past action or practice in any subsequent claim." (Id. ¶ 38.)

Following this 2006 settlement, Plaintiff alleges that he continued to experience discrimination with respect to the assignment of job duties and job titles. Plaintiff claims he should have been assigned various human resource duties that were assigned to Trudy Edinger, and newsletter and annual report production duties that were assigned to John Laurita. (Id. ¶¶ 45, 48.) In addition, Plaintiff believed that he should have been given EEO/Affirmative Action and Trust Ethics Officer duties, which were assigned to NJEIT Chief Operating Officer, Defendant Scangarella. (Id. ¶¶ 43-44, 48.)

In May 2007, Plaintiff sought and received additional duties from his supervisor, Defendant Scangarella.*fn5 (Id. ¶ 38.) In July and August 2007, Plaintiff discussed the possibility of reclassification and promotion, and Defendant Scangarella stated that he would support a reclassification if his daily job responsibilities merited it. (Id. ¶¶ 61-62.) Defendant Scangarella also informed Plaintiff that as an alternative to seeking a desk audit Plaintiff could provide him with additional information to support a reclassification request. (Id. ¶¶ 67-68.) Plaintiff declined this alternative. (Id. ¶ 68.)

In January 2008, following a desk audit, the Department of Personnel ("DOP") issued a draft determination that Plaintiff's civil service title should be reclassified from AA2 to Administrative Analyst 1.*fn6 (Id. ¶¶ 69.) By letter dated February 13, 2008, NJEIT disagreed with the DOP determination and explained that Plaintiff "currently does not perform [the] functions [of an Administrative Analyst 1], they are not envisioned by [NJEIT] as to [sic] consistent with his current responsibilities, nor needed by [NJEIT] in its operations (or currently performed by others at [NJEIT])." (Id. ¶ 71; Yi Cert. Ex. 12.)

Nevertheless, in a letter dated March 20, 2008, DOP reclassified Plaintiff's civil service title from AA2 to Administrative Analyst 1. (Id. ¶ 73.) NJEIT continued to disagree with this determination, and edited Plaintiff's Performance Evaluation System ("PES") Agreement to provide greater detail regarding Plaintiff's responsibilities and work standards. (Id. ¶ 74.) After reviewing the revised PES Agreement, the DOP was satisfied that Plaintiff's assigned duties reflected his title as AA2 and reclassified him accordingly.*fn7 (Id. ¶ 77.)

In 2010, NJEIT offered Plaintiff the opportunity to draft its newsletters and its annual report; however, Plaintiff declined these opportunities. (Id. ¶¶ 79-81.) A second desk audit was ordered due to Plaintiff's insistence that his PES Agreement included duties covered by the Administrative Analyst 1 position. (Id. ¶ 82.) The second desk audit concluded that Plaintiff was appropriately classified as an AA2. (Id. ¶ 83.) ...

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