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Jeanne Knight v. Audubon Savings Bank

June 26, 2012

JEANNE KNIGHT, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
AUDUBON SAVINGS BANK, RESPONDENT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Labor, Division of Workers' Compensation, Claim Petition No. 2010-6282.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued April 23, 2012

Before Judges Alvarez and Skillman.

Jeanne Knight appeals from the dismissal after trial of her petition for workers' compensation based on a psychiatric disability. We affirm.

The following circumstances were developed during the trial. Petitioner was hired in 1990 as a teller by the employer, Audubon Savings Bank, eventually being promoted in 1999 to her final position as a mortgage processor. In 1992 petitioner trained Robin Fadio, who started working summers at the bank while in college. By 2004, Fadio had become a chief residential loan officer and vice president, and petitioner's supervisor.

Petitioner testified that although there were minor conflicts between her and Fadio from 1999 through 2004, the conflicts in the workplace became major when Fadio was promoted in 2004. She alleged that Fadio screamed at her, imposed an excessively burdensome workload upon her, and, generally, made her job so stressful that it resulted in a compensable psychiatric claim. Petitioner received several annual written performance evaluations completed by Fadio, which she characterized as negative, both during her testimony and when interviewed by the expert witnesses.

The written performance evaluations were themselves admitted into evidence. The November 2004 evaluation rated petitioner's work performance as falling in the "[g]ood" category. In November 2005, petitioner's score improved by a few points and continued to be "[g]ood." In 2006, petitioner's evaluation improved, falling in the "[v]ery [g]ood" category. Her score improved again in 2007, though it remained "[v]ery [g]ood." Her score decreased in 2008 and 2009, but remained "[v]ery [g]ood."

Petitioner said that she decided to leave her employment in February 2010 after her "negative" 2009 review. Her last day of work was February 2, 2010, when she left the office claiming there were problems with her mother's hospice care. Petitioner said that when she called the office two days later, Fadio screamed at her on the phone about a problem regarding a customer's insurance policy.

Petitioner filed for disability benefits on February 3, 2010, when she was advised that her mother "didn't have much time." She denied that she separated from her employment because of her mother's grave condition, claiming she left because of the psychiatric stress caused by Fadio's ill treatment of her. Petitioner presented three fact witnesses in support of this position during the trial.

The first, Bob Fiorentino, supervised both petitioner and Fadio. He was terminated from his employment in January 2009. Fiorentino confirmed that petitioner and Fadio did not have a good working relationship, and said that he too had conflicts with Fadio but worked well with petitioner. Fadio had yelled at him on a couple of occasions, but he never witnessed her screaming at petitioner. Fiorentino believed that petitioner was overwhelmed with the amount of work assigned to her, including work she thought fell outside of her job description. He did not, however, consider the expectations placed upon petitioner to be unreasonable even if the work overwhelmed her.

Petitioner's second witness, Susan Emerle, worked in close physical proximity to both Fadio and petitioner, heard them have many heated discussions, each provoking the other. In fact, Emerle saw petitioner at times deliberately goad Fadio, describing petitioner as "a very spiteful person," who referred to Fadio either as a "princes[s]" or "the witch." Emerle said although the relationship was not healthy, it was merely "two very strong-minded women just not finding common ground[.]" She observed that Fadio also did not get along with Fiorentino or Cheryl Smith, a retired employee. Emerle agreed that petitioner was assigned a heavy workload, but thought she actually enjoyed a great deal of flexibility in her position.

Petitioner's third witness, Lois Reiter, the administrative assistant to the bank president, never heard any loud disagreements between Fadio and petitioner despite the fact the office was relatively small. Reiter knew petitioner harbored animosity towards Fadio, but never considered Fadio to be inappropriately harsh in her interactions with petitioner.

Petitioner's treating physician, Dr. Harry Carnes, prescribed anti-anxiety medications for petitioner's job-related anxiety in 2003 or 2004. Carnes eventually referred petitioner to a psychiatrist, Dr. Arthur Goldman, with whom she first consulted on April 12, 2010. Goldman described petitioner's psychiatric disabilities as including adjustment disorder with mixed anxious and depressive features. He opined, based on the information provided by petitioner, that the diagnosis was disabling and caused by her work situation. Goldman was unaware that petitioner had also been taking Buspar, a tranquilizer, used primarily to treat anxiety, since 2003 or 2004. Goldman did not know that petitioner's evaluations were actually positive, not negative. When ...


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