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Tigner v. Jersey City Housing Authority

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 14, 2014

KEISHA TIGNER, Plaintiff,
v.
JERSEY CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant.

OPINION

SUSAN D. WIGENTON, District Judge.

Before this Court is defendant Jersey City Housing Authority's ("JCHA" or "Defendant") Motion for Summary Judgment ("Motion") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Venue is proper in this District pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). This Motion is decided without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons stated below, this Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion.

FACTUAL HISTORY[1]

Plaintiff Keisha Tigner ("Plaintiff") was employed by Defendant from March 2003 to May 2012.[2] (Am. Compl. ¶ 5.) In 2006, Plaintiff began working in Defendant's Section 8 division as a Housing Assistant Technician ("HAT").[3] (Def.'s Statement of Material Facts ("Def.'s SOF") ¶ 11.) As a HAT, Plaintiff fulfilled administrative duties and provided rental assistance to eligible tenants. ( Id. ¶ 12.) In this role, she was a member of the Independent Service Workers of America ("ISWA") union. ( Id. ¶ 13.)

On September 30, 2008, Geraldine Jones ("Jones"), the Assistant Director of Section 8, showed Plaintiff and another co-worker a sexually explicit picture. ( Id. ¶¶ 23-27; Am. Compl. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff reported the incident to Grace Malley ("Malley"), Director of Human Resources, which led to Jones' two-day suspension and demotion on October 20, 2008. (Def.'s SOF ¶¶ 29-38.) Plaintiff claims that she was offended by Jones' various comments, including Jones' statements that the HATs are "stupid, " "lazy, " and "hoochies." ( Id. ¶ 43, 46-48.) Plaintiff also claims that Jones would sometimes rub Plaintiff's arms when Jones "wanted to talk" or "be nice." ( Id. ¶ 45.)

In early 2008, Plaintiff complained to Human Resources that Melba Riano ("Riano"), who was in charge of processing Section 8 payments for Defendant, harassed Plaintiff and failed to process payments for Plaintiff's cases. ( Id. ¶¶ 70-72.) After investigating the matter, Defendant found insufficient support for Plaintiff's complaint against Riano. ( Id. ¶¶ 73-74.)

In support of Plaintiff's First Amendment claims, Plaintiff contends that she "publicly criticized" the management of the Section 8 program, including comments about the misapplication of payment to a landlord, the utilization of the Housing Voucher Program, the delay in funding, and an instance where a landlord was using multiple Employer Identification Numbers ("EINs").[4] ( Id. ¶¶ 76-82.)

In 2011, Maria Maio ("Maio"), Defendant's Executive Director, implemented the following cost-cutting measures: a hiring freeze, furlough days, and a reduction of overtime and office supplies. ( Id. ¶¶ 102-03.) Additionally, Defendant responded to budget cuts to the Section 8 program by laying off four HATs between 2011 and 2013, including Plaintiff in 2012. ( Id. ¶¶ 103-04.) Defendant's decision to lay off Plaintiff was based on Plaintiff's personnel records and on ISWA's contract with Defendant. ( See id. ¶¶ 111-17.)

The ISWA contract provides, in relevant part:

ISWA agrees that in any future layoff actions, the application of "merit along with seniority, " as provided for in Article 24 of the ISWA collective bargaining agreement, will be defined as follows:
"An employee who has had four or more days suspension (or loss of vacation in lieu of suspension) within the last three years will lose seniority rights for the purposes of layoff, demotion in lieu of layoff or recall."

( Id. ¶ 112.) Taking the ISWA contract into account, Malley found that Defendant "was the only HAT with four or more days suspension in the last three years, [so] Plaintiff lost her seniority for purposes of the layoff." ( Id. ¶¶ 113-14.) Malley further considered that Plaintiff had a pending charge of "failure to perform job duties, " for which a ten-day suspension was recommended. ( Id. ¶ 115.)[5] Since Plaintiff's layoff, Defendant has continued to administer layoffs and has not hired additional HATs for Section 8. ( Id. ¶¶ 121-23.)

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed the instant action in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County. ( Id. ¶ 1.) On June 26, 2012, Defendant removed the action to the District of New Jersey. ( Id. ¶ 2.) On or about January 23, 2013, this Court granted Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint in part. (Dkt. Nos. 13-14.) On February 25, 2013, Plaintiff filed her Amended Complaint, alleging: (1) First Amendment retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) hostile ...


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