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Dalton v. State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 5, 2018

HEIDI DALTON, Plaintiff,
v.
THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY; THE NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE; THE NEW JERSEY OFFICE OF ATTORNEY GENERAL; and LIEUTENANT ILIAS ANDRINOPOULOS, Defendants.

          OPINION

          Hon. Freda L. Wolfson United States District Judge

         The instant action arises out of an employment relationship between Plaintiff Heidi Dalton (“Plaintiff”) and the New Jersey State Police (the “State Police”). Following the termination of her employment with the State Police, Plaintiff asserted various state and federal civil rights claims, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e-2, et seq., section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1, et seq. (“NJLAD”), against the State of New Jersey, the State Police, the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General (the “OAG”), and Lieutenant Ilias Andrinopoulos (collectively, “Defendants”). Presently before the Court are: (1) Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint; and (2) Plaintiff's Cross Motion for Leave to File an Amended Complaint.[1] For the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion is granted, and Plaintiff's Cross Motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         On February 7, 2001, Plaintiff began her employment as a civilian employee of the State Police. Proposed Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”), ¶ 1. From 2005 to 2014, Plaintiff worked in the Missing Persons unit of the State Police, where her primary job function was to activate Amber alerts. Id. at ¶¶ 2-5, 8.

         In 2009, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos joined the Missing Persons unit as a Detective Sergeant. Id. at ¶ 10. Plaintiff alleges that, during that time, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos expressed his dissatisfaction with his placement in the Missing Persons unit, conveying a preference for placement within the Major Crimes unit. Id. at ¶¶ 13. Plaintiff further alleges that while Lieutenant Andrinopoulos was in the Missing Persons unit, he “told Trooper Enrique Brian that he was going to target . . . Plaintiff.” Id. at ¶ 14.

         Approximately two years after his placement in the Missing Persons unit, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos was transferred to the Essex County Task Force of Major Crimes (“Major Crimes”). Id. at ¶ 12. Nonetheless, shortly after his assignment to Major Crimes, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos was reassigned to the Missing Persons unit. Id. at ¶ 15. Plaintiff alleges that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos' reassignment was the result of his “inability to supervise subordinates and to render their workplace as hostile.” Id. at ¶ 15. Plaintiff also avers that, prior to Lieutenant Andrinopoulos' reassignment to the Missing Persons unit, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos had a “substantiated domestic violence internal” investigation. Id. at ¶ 16.[3]

         Plaintiff alleges that, following Lieutenant Andrinopoulos' reassignment to the Missing Persons unit, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos “made known that he harbored dislike” for both Plaintiff and State Trooper Brian Kearns (“Trooper Kearns”). Id. at ¶ 19. Specifically, Plaintiff avers that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos manipulated State Police reports to create the impression that Trooper Kearns was failing to adequately perform his job responsibilities within the Missing Persons unit. Id. at ¶ 20. Plaintiff further alleges that, in response to Lieutenant Andrinopoulos' conduct with respect to Trooper Kearns, Plaintiff submitted various documents to Captain Gordon SanMartino, with the purpose of demonstrating that Trooper Kearns was being unfairly evaluated. Id. at ¶ 21.

         Plaintiff next alleges that, in early 2013, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos “turned [Plaintiff's supervisor, ] Lieutenant Tansey[, ] against . . . Plaintiff” while Plaintiff was out of work for two days on personal leave. Id. at ¶¶ 23-24. Plaintiff avers, without further elaboration, that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos' actions in this regard created a hostile work environment for Plaintiff upon her return to work. Id. at ¶ 24. Plaintiff alleges further that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos also turned Lieutenant Paul Valles against Plaintiff, despite the fact that Plaintiff and Lieutenant Valles had a good working relationship prior to the involvement of Lieutenant Andrinopoulos. Id. at ¶ 25. Plaintiff also alleges, without explanation, that in December of 2013, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos “engineered a plot to remove the Plaintiff and was found out.” Id. at ¶ 48.

         In the remainder of the Proposed Amended Complaint, Plaintiff recounts a laundry list of interactions between herself and Lieutenant Andrinopoulos, alleging that these interactions occurred within the scope of Lieutenant Andrinopoulos' employment, and amount to gender discrimination:

• Plaintiff alleges that, in early 2014, during the course of a meeting regarding an upcoming snow day, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos criticized Plaintiff in front of other attendees, and stated, “When I become your boss, things are going to be fucking different.” Am. Compl. ¶¶ 26-32. Plaintiff further alleges that, when she asked Lieutenant Andrinopoulos “what his problem was with her, ” Lieutenant Andrinopoulos explained that it related to Plaintiffs defense of Trooper Kearns. Id. at ¶ 33.
• Plaintiff alleges that her supervisors, including Lieutenant Andrinopoulos, “deprived her of PARS evaluations even though she filed two grievances.”[4] Id. at ¶ 34.
• Plaintiff alleges generally that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos “created a hostile work environment and did yell and scream at the Plaintiff every chance he got.” Id. at ¶ 36.
• Plaintiff alleges that, on one occasion, where she was late to work due to a truck blocking her entry to the office, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos called her and asked, “Where the fuck are you?” Id. at ¶ 37.
• Plaintiff alleges that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos refused to call on Plaintiff to speak in meetings, and removed various work responsibilities from Plaintiff, including taking away Plaintiffs Amber alert notifications and her oversight of ordering supplies. Id. at ¶¶ 39-43, 55-59.
• Plaintiff alleges that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos put in a request for Plaintiff to be transferred to another unit. Id. at ¶ 41.
• Plaintiff alleges that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos once sent a Trooper to her house when Plaintiff was out on sick leave. Id. at ¶ 44.
• Plaintiff alleges that, on one occasion, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos threatened to send a Trooper to her house to retrieve Plaintiffs equipment, laptop, and cell phone, but instead sent a union representative to retrieve these items. Id. at ¶ 45.
• Plaintiff alleges that, in March of 2014, she was required to train Kim Smith, a personal friend of Lieutenant Andrinopoulos, on how to handle Amber alerts in the Missing Persons unit. Id. at ¶¶ 49-50. Plaintiff further alleges that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos transferred Plaintiffs Amber alert job responsibilities to Ms. Smith in May of 2014. Id. at ¶ 61. Additionally, Plaintiff avers that, despite the fact that Ms. Smith had already assumed responsibility for activating Amber alerts, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos criticized Plaintiff for the way that an Amber alert was handled in May 2014. Id. at ¶¶ 59-52.

         In the Proposed Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, in February 2014 and March 2014, she filed complaints against Lieutenant Andrinopoulos with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”). Id. at ¶¶ 35, 39. Subsequently, the EEOC found that Plaintiffs allegations against Lieutenant Andrinopoulos were unsubstantiated. Id. at ¶ 54.

         In approximately May of 2014, Plaintiff took a leave of absence from work due to “stress, ” and remained out of work until December of 2014. Id. at ¶ 63. Ultimately, Plaintiff was terminated from her employment with the State Police on May 5, 2016. Id. at ¶ 64.

         On May 10, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendants in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer County, Law Division, alleging that Defendants' actions amounted to discrimination, in violation of Plaintiff s constitutional rights under § 1983 and the NJLAD. On June 7, 2017, Defendants removed the Complaint to this Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1443, based on the Court's federal question jurisdiction over Plaintiff s § 1983 claim. ECF No. 1. Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on July 19, 2017. ECF No. 8. Plaintiff filed her Opposition to that Motion on September 5, 2017, and cross moved to amend the Complaint. ECF No. 14. Defendants filed their Reply on September 25, 2017. ECF No. 17.

         The Proposed Amended Complaint asserts four counts against Defendants. In Count One, Plaintiff alleges that the actions of Defendants amounted to gender discrimination against Plaintiff, in violation of her “constitutional rights.” Am. Compl. at 8. In Count Two, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants created a hostile work environment, which “caused the Plaintiff to go on sick leave and eventually, to be terminated.” Id. In that connection, in Count Two, Plaintiff alleges that the State Police and the OAG had knowledge, as a result of Lieutenant Andrinopoulos' “history of creating hostile work environments, ” that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos created a hostile work environment for Plaintiff due to her gender, yet “took no action to correct the same.” Id. In Count Three, Plaintiff asserts a claim for constructive discharge, alleging that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos created a hostile work environment for Plaintiff, in order to terminate Plaintiff from her position and to replace her with his personal friend, Ms. Smith. Id. Finally, in Count Four, Plaintiff alleges that Lieutenant Andrinopoulos created “a false employment investigation” against Trooper Kearns, and that, after Plaintiff submitted evidence supporting Trooper Kearns, Lieutenant Andrinopoulos retaliated by creating a hostile work environment for Plaintiff, which led to Plaintiff becoming ill, and eventually, to Plaintiff's termination. Id. at 9.

         II. L ...


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