NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued December 3, 2013
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-5031-09.
Kevin Barber argued the cause for appellant (Niedweske Barber Hager, LLC, attorneys; Mr. Barber, on the brief).
M. Karen Thompson argued the cause for respondent (Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus, attorneys; Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Kathryn J.H. Boardman, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief  ).
Before Judges Fisher and Espinosa.
In this appeal, we consider the propriety of a summary judgment entered in favor of defendant University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey dismissing plaintiff Marion Cohen's complaint, which alleged age discrimination in violation of the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42, in defendant's failure to renew her contract. Because the trial judge took a too mechanical approach in determining whether plaintiff presented a prima facie case of discrimination, we reverse.
The record reveals that plaintiff was hired by defendant in 1994 as an associate professor of anatomy and cell biology and injury sciences; plaintiff's husband, Dr. Stanley Cohen, became the chair of the pathology department at the same time. Plaintiff started on the tenure-track, but later switched to "coterminous-status, " meaning she was engaged for short "fixed period[s]." Plaintiff entered into a three-year contract with defendant in 1997; this was followed by five consecutive one-year contracts, a two-year contract in 2006, and another one-year contract in 2008.
In November 2008, allegedly because of budgetary concerns, defendant's interim dean informed departments that all contract employees were to be considered non-renewed unless there existed "sufficient justification" for renewal. On February 24, 2009, a few weeks after her sixty-ninth birthday, plaintiff was informed her contract would not be renewed and her employment terminated effective June 30, 2009.
Plaintiff commenced this age discrimination suit in June 2009. After a lengthy period of discovery, the trial judge granted defendant's summary judgment. Plaintiff appeals.
In this appeal, we apply the same standard the trial judge was required to apply, W.J.A. v. D.A., 210 N.J. 229, 237-38 (2012), and view the facts in the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party – here plaintiff – to determine whether "the competent evidential materials . . . are sufficient to permit a rational factfinder to resolve the alleged disputed issue in favor of the non-moving party, " Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). The propriety of summary judgment must be considered in light of the familiar burden-shifting standard pronounced in McDonnell Douglas Corp. ...