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Okosa v. The Center for Family Support, Inc.

Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division

December 23, 2013

PETER C. OKOSA, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
THE CENTER FOR FAMILY SUPPORT, INC., and DOROTHY MUTHONI, Defendants-Respondents.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted July 30, 2013

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-6009-10.

Peter C. Okosa, appellant pro se.

Garrity, Graham, Murphy, Garofalo & Flinn, P.C., attorneys for respondents (John Badagliacca, of counsel; Stephen F. Balsamo, on the brief).

Before Judges Espinosa and Hoffman.

PER CURIAM

Petitioner appeals from an order that granted summary judgment to defendants, dismissing his complaint. We affirm.

We derive the facts from defendants' Statement of Material Facts submitted in support of their summary judgment motion.[1]

Plaintiff was employed as a residence manager of a group home by the Center for Family Support, Inc. (CFS), for approximately four months when his at-will employment was terminated in July 2009. Plaintiff contended he became aware of certain discrepancies in ledgers regarding three residents' petty cash accounts, shortfalls of $11.97, $9.63, and $12.47, respectively, in May 2009. He further contended that he reported the shortfalls to co-workers, Stella Mainga and defendant, Dorothy Muthoni, who was his direct supervisor. He scheduled a meeting with another supervisor, Donna Messina, after the July 4, 2009 weekend to discuss his allegations with her.

However, on July 2, 2009, an event occurred that prompted action by CFS. Plaintiff arrived at work at the group home at approximately 9:30 a.m. and discovered a sewage overflow in the basement. According to one of the counselors at the home, plaintiff chose to leave the group home to take a resident to a medical appointment without calling a plumber to address the sewage overflow or taking other action to remediate the condition, despite her advice to do so. That afternoon, a representative of the Division of Developmental Disabilities made an unannounced visit to the group home, observed the sewage overflow, and reported his observations. As of the afternoon, plaintiff had still not called a plumber to address the sewage overflow.

After conducting an investigation, Sharon Lax, CFS Human Resources Director, determined to terminate plaintiff's employment for his improper handling of the sewage overflow incident. At the time she terminated plaintiff's employment, she had no knowledge of plaintiff's allegations that residents' funds had been mishandled. Plaintiff was terminated on July 21, 2009.

In this lawsuit against CFS and Muthoni, plaintiff alleged he was wrongfully terminated because he was about to "blow the whistle" on the alleged mishandling of funds.

Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff's termination was not causally related to his claimed whistleblowing activities. The return date for the motion was July 13, 2012. Therefore, pursuant to Rule 4:46-1, any opposition was ...


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