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Dinnerstein v. Burlington County College

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 21, 2017


          MITCHELL DINNERSTEIN Appearing pro se



          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D. JUDGE.

         This case concerns the termination of Plaintiff Mitchell Dinnerstein's employment with Defendant Rowan College at Burlington County College (“the College”), [1] allegedly on the basis of his Jewish faith. Plaintiff asserts a claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Defendant moves for summary judgment, to deny Plaintiff additional discovery and time to respond to Defendant's summary judgment motion, and for sanctions against Plaintiff. The Court will grant summary judgment in favor of Defendant, finding no need for additional discovery, but will, reluctantly and despite the extraordinary circumstances present here, deny the motion for sanctions.


         The Court takes the following facts from Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, to which Plaintiff filed no response.[2] Plaintiff was hired by the College on July 15, 2007 as a Maintenance Mechanic-Electrician. Plaintiff was an employee within the Physical Plant Department, which is the College's construction and maintenance department.

         The College has a Civility Policy, which provides:

Burlington County College is a community of individuals. As such, we must always strive to recognize the dignity and worth of each member of our community. It is, therefore, the policy of the college that each individual, regardless of status (student, administrator, support staff or faculty member) must treat every other individual, irrespective of status, rank, title or position, with dignity and respect.
It will be a violation of the policy for any individual or group of individuals to engage in any of the following types of behavior:
. . . .
2. Use of foul, abusive or demeaning language (written or verbal) or obscene gestures directed towards another (either as a group or an individual) . . . .

         The Civility Policy was covered in training sessions, of which Plaintiff attended three - one in 2008, one in 2009, and one in 2010.

         Plaintiff's first documented violation of the Civility Policy was in April 2008, when Plaintiff used foul language and yelled at a coworker. In August 2008, Plaintiff again violated the Civility Policy by yelling at another coworker with foul language. Later that month, Plaintiff committed yet another violation and was suspended for three days. As a result of this violation, Plaintiff was informed that future violations would result in further disciplinary action, including potential termination. In January 2010, Plaintiff's superiors confronted him regarding his refusal to perform the work assigned to him, which constituted insubordinate behavior. He was again suspended.

         In August 2011, Plaintiff was issued a final warning after again yelling at a coworker and also being insubordinate, resulting in yet another suspension. Plaintiff was told that any further misconduct would result in his termination. Around December 1, 2011, Plaintiff made profane remarks to John Fritsch, the Assistant Manager of Physical Plant; Jay Falkenstein, the Manager of Physical Plant; and Donald Hudson, the Director of Physical Plant. Following this violation, a fact-finding hearing was held, in which Plaintiff admitted to making the profane remarks. On December 8, 2011, Plaintiff's employment was terminated.

         Plaintiff received his Notice of Right to Sue from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on August 15, 2013. Plaintiff then filed a complaint with this Court on September 18, 2013, suing Defendant for employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.[3] Plaintiff asserted discriminatory acts occurred from September 2007 through November 2011. According to Plaintiff, he was harassed, retaliated against, and eventually terminated from his employment based on his religion.

         The Court entered a Notice of Call for Dismissal on August 22, 2014, requiring Plaintiff to submit an affidavit setting forth his good faith efforts to prosecute this case by September 2, 2014. No such affidavit was filed by Plaintiff. Consequently, the Court issued a September 3, 2014 Order of Dismissal based on Plaintiff's failure to prosecute under Local Civil Rule 41.1.

         Plaintiff wrote to the Court on September 4, 2014 and on September 16, 2014, acknowledging he was late in responding to the Notice of Call for Dismissal and requesting the Court reopen the case. Construing this as a motion to reopen pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), the Court found there was “excusable neglect” in Plaintiff's failure to respond to the Notice of Call for Dismissal. Thus, on January 14, 2015, the Court reinstated Plaintiff's complaint and reopened the case.

         The case then proceeded through a difficult discovery process. It was difficult largely because of Plaintiff's rude, inflammatory, and slanderous slurs and false accusations against both his adversaries and the Magistrate Judge assigned to this matter. It was also protracted because of Plaintiff's repeated failures to participate in discovery. On December 20, 2016, this Court withdrew the reference to the Magistrate Judge in order to personally oversee discovery and to move the matter forward. Accordingly, the Court held a discovery conference on February 27, 2017 and directed a schedule for the completion of all remaining discovery and a deadline for dispositive motions. On June 12, 2017, the date set by the Court for dispositive motions, Defendant moved for summary judgment. On September 22, 2017, Defendant moved for sanctions against Plaintiff.


         Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that “'the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits if any, ' . . . demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact” and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56).

         An issue is “genuine” if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. “In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence ‘is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'” Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

         Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (“[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”); see Singletary v. Pa. Dep't of Corr., 266 F.3d 186, 192 n.2 (3d Cir. 2001) (“Although the initial burden is on the summary judgment movant to show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, ‘the burden on the moving party may be discharged by “showing” - that is, ...

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