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Gianfrancesco v. Laborers International Union of North America Local 594

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 23, 2013

Anthony GIANFRANCESCO, Plaintiff,
v.
LABORERS INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA LOCAL 594, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

ANNE E. THOMPSON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter has come before the Court upon the Motion for Sanctions and Attorneys' Fees filed by Defendants John Adams, Patrick Byrne, Jose Colon, Eastern Regional Office of the Laborers International Union of North America ("Eastern Regional Office"), Laborers International Union of North America Local 594 ("Local 594"), New Jersey Building Construction Laborers District Council ("N.J. District Council"), and Raymond Pocino (collectively, "Defendants"). (Docket Entry No. 47). Plaintiff Anthony Gianfrancesco ("Plaintiff") opposes the motion. (Docket Entry No. 52). The Court has decided the matter upon consideration of the parties' written submissions and oral arguments made before the Court on May 23, 2013. For the reasons given below, Defendants' Motion for Sanctions and Attorneys' Fees is denied.

II. BACKGROUND

This case concerns Defendants' termination of Plaintiff, an employee at Local 594 who reported a number of alleged wrongdoings and illegalities at the union that he uncovered in the course of his employment. Plaintiff sought relief from Defendants for wrongful termination, claiming that he was terminated in retaliation for acting as a whistleblower in violation of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act ("CEPA"). The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the underlying facts of the case and briefly recites those facts relevant to the Court's analysis.

A. Factual History

From 2000 until November 2009, Plaintiff was an employee of the Laborers' International Union of North America ("LIUNA"). During that time, LIUNA employed an organizational hierarchy that included the Eastern Regional Office, the N.J. District Council, [1] and Local 594. Plaintiff held positions at both the local and district council level of the union. He served as President and District Council Delegate of Local 594, as well as President, Secretary Treasurer, and Field Representative of the N.J. District Council.

While working in these capacities, Plaintiff became aware of "numerous wrongdoings and illegalities." In particular, Plaintiff's cooperation in financial audits in 2008 revealed a number of wrongdoings concerning the finances of the N.J. District Council and Local 594, each of which he reported. Specifically, he reported that his brother, another union employee, had used a credit card to make personal purchases, had failed to return the card upon his retirement, and had also been awarded pay for five weeks of unused vacation time upon his retirement. Additionally, Plaintiff reported the presence of non-union and undocumented workers at a job site.

In November 2009, Plaintiff was terminated. Defendants claimed he was terminated because he was an "underperforming" employee and the union needed to reduce the workforce as a result of a deepening economic slump. Plaintiff claimed, however, that he was terminated in retaliation for acting as a whistleblower.

B. Procedural History

On October 28, 2010, Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit against Defendants, alleging that his termination constituted a violation of CEPA.[2] ( See Compl., Docket Entry No. 1, Attach. 2). Plaintiff was deposed on May 11, 2012 and testified that all of his alleged whistle-blowing activities fell entirely within his job duties. (Docket Entry No. 47, Attach. 2, Ex. A). Defendants' counsel then sent a letter to Plaintiff's counsel on May 14, 2012, informing him that Defendants intended to file a motion for sanctions because Plaintiff's claim was frivolous. ( Id. Ex. F). In the letter, Defendants' counsel explained that Plaintiff's admission that his whistleblowing acts were within his job duties as an employee rendered Plaintiff's claim "wholly without basis in law or fact" as a result of the "job duties exception" to CEPA. ( Id. ).

Defendants filed the motion for sanctions and attorneys' fees on July 9, 2012. (Docket Entry No. 26). On September 17, 2012, the Court conducted a telephonic hearing on the motion. (Docket Entry No. 36). During the hearing, the Court denied the motion and converted it to a motion for summary judgment, explaining that "it may well be that the defendant is entitled to attorneys' fees" but that such a determination should be deferred until after summary judgment. (Docket Entry No. 53 at 8:14-16, 9:1-12).

On January 22, 2013, after the parties submitted new briefs for the motion for summary judgment, the Court granted summary judgment. (Docket Entry Nos. 45, 46). In granting summary judgment, the Court rejected Plaintiff's argument that no "job duties exception" existed and concluded that "as [Plaintiff's] whistle-blowing activities fall within his job duties, he is not entitled to relief under CEPA." (Docket Entry No. 45 ...


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