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Sweet-Springs v. New Jersey Department of Children & Families

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

September 3, 2013

KATHY SWEET-SPRINGS, Appellant,
v.
NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILIES, DIVISION OF YOUTH AND FAMILY SERVICES, Respondent.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted August 28, 2013

On appeal from the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, Docket No. EL07WG-60310-H.

Kathy Sweet-Springs, appellant pro se.

John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (Andrea M. Silkowitz, Assistant Attorney General; Farng-Yi D. Foo, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).

Before Judges Waugh and Haas.

PER CURIAM

Appellant Kathy Sweet-Springs appeals from the final determination of the Director of the Division on Civil Rights (Director) finding no probable cause to substantiate appellant's complaint that her employer, the New Jersey Department of Children and Families (DCF), had discriminated against her on the basis of her race and disability. We affirm.

Appellant was first employed by DCF in 2004 as a Family Service Specialist II within the Division of Youth and Family Services in the Newark II local office. After completing her training period, appellant was given the title of Family Service Specialist I.

In August 2007, appellant voluntarily transferred to the Atlantic West office in Mays Landing. In March 2008, DCF offered appellant the opportunity to transfer to the Mercer North office in Lawrenceville to become a litigation specialist. Appellant accepted the transfer. In her new position, appellant reported to Kathleen Hoefler, who was the supervisor of the litigation unit.

Appellant had attendance problems in her new position and Hoefler met with her on May 13, 2008 to discuss them. By that date, appellant had already used sixteen sick days for the calendar year. After an employee uses thirteen sick days, DCF policy requires that he or she provide medical verification for all future absences due to illness. Hoefler reminded appellant of this policy at the meeting.

Six days later, however, appellant was absent from work and did not provide the required documentation. Four days later, appellant was again absent and she never returned to work after that date. On June 19, DCF's payroll services manager sent appellant a letter inquiring about her absence and directing her to supply medical documentation as to the reason for missing work. The manager also advised appellant that a failure to report to work for five consecutive days was "considered job abandonment and may result in termination of employment." On July 3, appellant sent in a medical note asking that she be excused from work from July 1 to August 1, 2008. No documentation was provided regarding her absence from May 23 to June 30.

Appellant did not return to work on August 1. She also failed to advise DCF that she was not going to return. On August 11, DCF instituted disciplinary action against appellant because she had missed work for five consecutive days without permission. Following a departmental hearing, DCF terminated appellant from employment in a final disciplinary action dated October 14, 2008. Her termination was effective August 1, 2008.

On October 30, 2008, appellant filed a verified complaint against DCF with the Division on Civil Rights (Division). She alleged DCF had engaged in unlawful employment discrimination because of her race (African-American) and physical disability. Specifically, appellant alleged that, when she first transferred to the litigation unit in Lawrenceville, she was required to "report" to an employee who was her subordinate. Appellant asserted that similarly situated employees, who were not African-American, were not supervised by their subordinates. Appellant also claimed she was disabled due to an "injured back, injured hip, [and] ...


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