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Janet Robbins v. U.S. Foodservice

August 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, Chief Judge:



This matter comes before the Court on Defendant U.S. Foodservice, Inc.'s ("USF") unopposed Motion for Summary Judgment. [Docket Item 8.] Plaintiff Janet Robbins filed a lawsuit in the Camden County Law Division of the New Jersey Superior Court, which Defendant USF removed to this Court. Plaintiff claimed that her termination from her employer, Defendant USF, violated New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination, the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), and the New Jersey Family Leave Act. She also claimed that she was entitled to punitive damages because defendant's actions were "outrageous" and "unacceptable in a civilized society." [Docket Item 1]; (Compl. ¶ 19.)

Defendant USF requests summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. The primary issue is whether collateral estoppel bars Plaintiff from adjudicating her claims because, before filing this lawsuit, she contested her termination in a union grievance arbitration proceeding. There was a final arbitration decision finding that USF had just cause to discharge Robbins. The Court finds that Plaintiff received a full and fair adjudication of her claims at the arbitration and that her claims are barred by collateral estoppel. The Court will grant summary judgment for Defendant USF.


A. Factual Background

Plaintiff Janet Robbins filed a lawsuit against Defendants U.S. Foodservice, Inc. ("USF") and John Does. (Compl.) She asserted the following facts in her Complaint: She was employed by Defendant USF as a distribution clerk. (Id. ¶ 4.) In May of 2011, she obtained a "medical leave of absence" to "attend to her sick husband." (Id. ¶ 5.) During this medical leave, she "severely injured her neck." (Id. ¶ 6.) She requested additional leave because "[a]s a result of her injury," she "needed additional leave time." (Id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff alleged that, "[a]fter making her request for additional leave time, plaintiff was harassed with unnecessary, unproductive, and invasive phone calls about her health by one of Defendant's supervisors." (Id. ¶

8.) On May 31, 2011, she was terminated "after plaintiff complained to defendant's human resources department about these phone calls." (Id. ¶ 9.) As a result of "Defendant's misconduct," plaintiff "suffered damages, including but not limited to, loss of income, mental and emotional suffering, humiliation, and loss of dignity." (Id. ¶ 11.) Defendant John Does "are unidentified individuals and/or business entities who participated in or otherwise bear responsibility for the wrongs" described above. (Id. ¶ 3.)

In its Brief in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket Item 8-3], Defendant USF alleged that "plaintiff's termination was the subject of a prior arbitration proceeding in which the arbitrator ruled in favor of USF." (Def. Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. ("Def. Br."), at 1, Feb. 16, 2012.) USF attached the Arbitration Opinion and Award to its summary judgment motion [Docket Item 8-1, Ex. A], and the Court summarizes it here. On October 7, 2011, arbitrator Lawrence Coburn conducted a hearing to resolve a claim by Teamsters Local 107, Plaintiff's Union, that USF violated its collective bargaining agreement by discharging Robbins on May 31, 2011. (Arbitration Award at 1.) At the hearing, "both parties were afforded full opportunity to present evidence and argument in support of their respective positions." (Id. at 1.)

Arbitrator Coburn addressed "on the merits whether [USF] had just cause to discharge [Robbins]." (Id. at 11.) The Arbitrator found that Robbins "was dishonest" because she used "FMLA leave to cover up a plan to spend time in Myrtle Beach for bike week. . . ." (Id. at 15.) The Arbitrator also found that Robbins "lied" to her supervisor about the circumstances of her absence from work. (Id.) And he stated, "[b]ecause [Robbins] lied to [her supervisor] about her trip to Myrtle Beach, I conclude that [USF] had just cause to discharge her. [USF] is entitled to expect employees to be honest in their dealings with it, particularly on issues such as taking time off." (Id. at 15-16.)*fn1

The Superior Court of New Jersey, Gloucester County Law Division issued an order confirming the arbitration award, and USF attached that order to its Motion for Summary Judgment. [Docket Item 8-1, Ex. C.]

B. Jurisdiction

The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Plaintiff Janet Robbins is a citizen of New Jersey, and Defendant USF is a citizen of Delaware, its place of incorporation, and Illinois, its principal place of business. (Def. Notice Removal ¶ 5.) While Plaintiff's Complaint does not allege specific damages, USF argues that "[a] reasonable person reading plaintiff's Complaint would conclude that the ...

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