NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted March 6, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Docket No. L-3150-09.
F. Michael Daily, Jr., LLC, attorney for appellant (Amy B. Sunnergren, on the brief).
Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Luanh L. D'Mello, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Before Judges Grall and Accurso.
Plaintiff Linda Trevelise appeals from a February 1, 2012 order denying reconsideration of a summary judgment entered on December 16, 2011, dismissing her complaint for age discrimination against defendant Superior Court of New Jersey, Ocean Vicinage.
Plaintiff has worked in the vicinage since 1985 when she was in high school and enrolled in a cooperative office education program which allowed her to work part-time at the courthouse. Upon her graduation, she obtained full-time employment as a clerk typist. She was eventually promoted to senior clerk typist. Several years later her job title changed to Judiciary Clerk 2 (JC-2). In 2002, plaintiff was promoted to JC-3.
In 2006 and 2007, plaintiff applied five times for a promotion to Court Services Officer 1 (CSO-1). Although she was interviewed the first time she applied, she was not selected. She was neither interviewed nor selected for the other CSO-1 openings and remains employed as a JC-3.
When plaintiff was interviewed for promotion she was thirty-nine years old. By the time the second opening was advertised approximately six months later, plaintiff had turned forty. She contends that defendant's attitude towards her "changed after she attained the age of forty." She points out that neither her qualifications nor the requirements of the position changed between the first and second postings "but for each occasion thereafter, Trevelise was not selected for an interview." Plaintiff contends that the reason was age discrimination.
In a comprehensive opinion delivered from the bench, Judge Perri rejected that premise as devoid of proof. Employing the McDonnell Douglas framework, the judge concluded that plaintiff had established a prima facie case of discrimination, namely that she was a member of the protected class, that she was qualified for the position, that she was not selected, and that defendant selected younger applicants. See Nini v. Mercer Cnty. Cmty. Coll., 406 N.J.Super. 547, 554-55 (App. Div. 2009), aff'd, 202 N.J. 98 (2010).
Because plaintiff had turned forty years of age she was within the protected class. She also met the minimum qualifications for the position. Although the position required a four-year degree and one year of case management experience, relevant work experience was an acceptable substitute for the degree. Plaintiff's many years of experience thus qualified her for the position even though she possessed only a high school diploma. It was undisputed that plaintiff was not hired for any of the positions, and that defendant ultimately hired individuals aged twenty-five to thirty-five instead. Although noting that one of the persons hired was only five years younger than plaintiff, making the inference of age discrimination somewhat questionable, and one of the positions was offered to three people each significantly older than plaintiff, all of whom turned down the job, Judge Perri nevertheless concluded that plaintiff had made out a prima facie case for purposes of the summary judgment motion.
Judge Perri further concluded that defendant had articulated two legitimate non-discriminatory reasons for not selecting plaintiff for promotion. Defendant maintained that the candidates selected had either bachelor's or associate's degrees while plaintiff possessed only a high school diploma. Defendant also noted fifteen incidents, which Judge Perri reviewed in detail, in which plaintiff's supervisors had been compelled to discuss her demeanor in the workplace, all of which were documented in "significant event reports" included in plaintiff's personnel file. As defendant had met its burden of production on the motion, the judge found that the inference of discrimination ...