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Johnson-Williams v. Housing Authority of City of Camden

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 16, 2014





NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

Presently before the Court are two motions: defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's first amended complaint, and plaintiff's motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. For the reasons expressed below, defendants' motion will be granted and plaintiff's motion will be denied.


Plaintiff, Melody Johnson-Williams, began working for defendant, Housing Authority of the City of Camden ("HACC"), in October 2006 as a grant accountant. Her duties included examining and maintaining HACC's financial books and records in connection with funding from grants. Defendant Maria Marquez was the Executive Director of HACC, and plaintiff reported directly to Melvin Gibson, the Acting Director of Finance.

According to plaintiff's second amended complaint, [1] in January 2007, plaintiff discovered salary payment discrepancies with regard to Marquez's pay. Plaintiff believed that Marquez was receiving double salary payments by submitting requests for vacation pay advances, but then also submitting regular payroll time sheets for salary payments covering the same period as her vacation time, for which she had already been paid. Plaintiff claims that she reported this unethical, illegal and fraudulent practice to Gibson, who stated he would look into the matter. Nevertheless, Gibson told plaintiff to continue the payments.

Over the course of the next five years, from 2007 through 2012, plaintiff reported Marquez's purported double salary payments to every finance director or acting finance director who held those positions, including Gibson, Vernon Lawrence, and Vincent Muliro. Plaintiff believes that each finance director brought the issue to Marquez's attention, but no action was ever taken against Marquez.

In February 2012, Marquez appointed plaintiff as Acting Director of Finance. As a result, Marquez became plaintiff's direct supervisor, and it became plaintiff's job to approve Marquez's requests for advance vacation pay. Plaintiff spoke to Marquez's assistant, Deputy Executive Director Vincent Figueroa, about the double payments, and on August 21, 2012, he arranged a meeting with Marquez, plaintiff and himself. At the meeting, plaintiff voiced her concerns that the double payments were unethical, fraudulent, and illegal, and plaintiff claims that Figueroa agreed with her. Plaintiff claims that Marquez, however, dismissed plaintiff's concerns and maintained that such payments were legal and proper, and demanded that plaintiff continue the payment advances, despite the cumulative employee earning report for 2012 and prior years showing that the gross income paid to Marquez far exceeded the salary for which Marquez's position was budgeted.

From that point on, plaintiff claims that Marquez's demeanor toward plaintiff changed. Plaintiff claims that she was treated with coldness and hostility, the working conditions became onerous and oppressive, and Marquez threatened to deny plaintiff her earned, approved vacation in 2012. Additionally, plaintiff claims that Marquez started to only refer to plaintiff in the third person, Marquez began to harass plaintiff over minor, day-to-day accounting questions, and Marquez lodged complaints about alleged accounting errors that had no factual basis. Plaintiff claims that these complaints were made against her because she spoke out about the double income payments to Marquez.

In December 2012, plaintiff prepared the HACC budget for 2013. The HACC approved the budget, which showed a $366, 000.00 surplus, for submission to the Department of Community Affairs at a later date.

On January 4, 2013, Marquez submitted advance vacation pay forms to plaintiff, and plaintiff denied Marquez's request. Plaintiff claims that after she denied Marquez's request, Marquez demanded direct payments from the accounts payable clerk.

Sometime during this period, plaintiff performed a review of the 2013 budget she prepared, and determined that a computer error caused the surplus to show $366, 000.00 instead of $66, 000.00. Plaintiff notified Marquez, and the corrected budget was resubmitted to the board for approval. According to plaintiff, the corrected budget was approved and sent to the Department of Community Affairs, and there was no loss of funding due to the mistake.

On January 28, 2013, Marquez drafted a memorandum informing plaintiff that she was suspended from her duties as Acting Director of Finance, and that she had until February 4, 2013 to accept a demotion or resign. Plaintiff claims that even though the proffered reason for her disciplinary action was related to the incorrect budget, she believes it was to punish her for opposing Marquez's illegal conduct. Plaintiff accepted the demotion, but she made her acceptance subject to reservation of her right to appeal the demotion to the HACC board. She also sent a letter to the HACC board, informing them of financial ...

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