United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.
matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment
brought by Defendant, The Mercer County Sheriff's
Department (ECF No. 195).
December 30, 2011, Plaintiff filed the original Complaint in
this action as a pro se Plaintiff, naming eleven
defendants. (ECF No. 1). On June 15, 2012, Judge Pisano entered
an order dismissing the State of New Jersey. Plaintiff filed
an Amended Complaint on July 16, 2012, asserting claims
against Mercer County Sheriff's Office, the County of
Mercer, the Mercer County Administrator, and PBA Local 187.
On February 28, 2013, Judge Pisano dismissed all of the
Defendants, except the Mercer County Sheriff's Office and
PBA Local 187. Judge Pisano thereafter dismissed all claims
against the PBA Local 187 on January 29, 2015. (ECF No. 111).
As such, Mercer County Sheriff's Office is the sole
remaining Defendant in this action. The Sheriff's Office
now moves for summary judgment on the remaining claims of:
Title VII, Race Discrimination (Count I), Gender
Discrimination (Count VIII); and Retaliation (Count II); and
the (Conscientious Employee Protection Act CEPA), based only
on alleged retaliatory events that occurred after December
30, 2010 (Count IV).
Amended Complaint consists of 61 paragraphs of alleged facts,
followed by the eight Counts, four of which remain. Within
the 61 paragraphs of alleged facts, the Amended Complaint
depicts various incidences of alleged adverse treatment in
connection with Plaintiff's employment. Plaintiff also
contends that Officers “less senior” than her
were treated more favorably, that she was sexually harassed,
and that she was denied over-time hours and pay for
Amended Complaint is not precise and it is difficult to
assess how each alleged incident is related to the alleged
causes of action. In addition, Plaintiff asserts more alleged
incidents of discriminatory conduct in her opposition to the
summary judgment motion than were originally asserted in the
Amended Complaint. In light of same, each incident is
reviewed separately below.
Plaintiff began her employment with the Mercer County
Sheriff's Office in 1992 and retired in 2014. She was a
member of the PBA Local 187 Labor Union. Plaintiff was
assigned to the Child Support Hearing Officers at the Mercer
County Courthouse in Trenton, New Jersey for twelve years.
Incident (Amended Complaint ¶¶ 9-14.)
September 24, 2009, Christopher Corbin allegedly insulted
Plaintiff on a staff transport bus by “calling her an
offensive name in a disdainful and demeaning manner in the
presence of county staff and her fellow Sheriff
Officers.” Discovery revealed that Plaintiff, in a
memorandum to Lt. Samonski alleged that Officer Corbin said
to Plaintiff, “Don't call me on the speaker phone,
” and allegedly told her that she must be
“stupid”. (Kemler Cert. ¶ 32 Ex. 10).
to Plaintiff, the incident was initially reported to the
sergeant on duty, Sergeant Harold Fowler, an African American
officer. Thereafter, the investigation was assigned to
Sergeant Patakula. Plaintiff was upset with this change of
the investigator because according to her, Sergeant Patakula
was a “white” friend of Officer Corbin. Plaintiff
further alleges that Patakula did not conduct a thorough
investigation. According to her Complaint, Patakula accused
Anderson of being too polite, and told her that he would
instruct Corbin to behave respectfully and professionally
toward her. On October 13, 2009, Plaintiff wrote a memorandum
to Lieutenant Patricia Samonski regarding her dissatisfaction
with the investigation. She did not receive an answer. On
December 4, 2009, Plaintiff wrote a letter to Kevin Larkin,
then Mercer County Sheriff, regarding the Officer Corbin
Accommodations and Overtime (Amended Complaint
¶¶ 15-17; ¶¶ 38-40)
the December 4, 2009 letter to Sheriff Kevin Larkin,
Plaintiff also complained about alleged unfair distribution
of overtime. Plaintiff alleges “special accommodations,
” including extra overtime, training and promotion
opportunities, which Anderson claimed were special
privileges, were “reserved for white officers”,
and that black officers were never assigned these
“special privileges.” According to Plaintiff,
Larkin did not respond to the letter; but in December 2009
she was allegedly interviewed in an intimidating manner and
instructed to keep her complaints on the “down
low” and not hire an attorney. (Andersen Cert. ¶46).
early 2010, Plaintiff was transferred to the Criminal
Courthouse which allegedly denied her an opportunity to work
overtime. She points specifically to Officer Darryl Taylor
who allegedly consistently allowed “white
officers” to work overtime but denied Plaintiff.
Plaintiff was also allegedly denied overtime by Sergeant
Charles Wert. (Amend. Compl. ¶38-40). The Amended
Complaint does not explain the circumstances of how this
occurred. Plaintiff was moved back to the Civil Courthouse
building at 175 Broad Street in 2011 and again reassigned to
the Criminal Courthouse in 2012.
to Criminal Court (Amended Complaint ¶ 18-29).
December 2009, Plaintiff began hearing rumors that she would
be transferred from her long-term assignment with the Child
Support Hearing Officers at the courthouse. Plaintiff alleges
that the transfer to the criminal courthouse was in
retaliation for the complaints in her letter to Sheriff
Larkin about disparate treatment of African American Sheriff
requested to stay in her former assignment, but her request
was denied. Plaintiff was transferred to the Criminal
Courthouse on January 4, 2010. Allegedly, Plaintiff was
replaced by a white officer who had less seniority than her.
In addition, she avers that two white officers similarly
requested that they not be transferred to the Criminal
Courthouse, and their requests were granted.
rebuts these accusations, noting first, that there were
fifteen officers including Plaintiff who were transferred,
and those officers were of diverse backgrounds. Second,
Defendant explains that such re-assignments are made twice a
year in January and July. Third, in a letter dated January
21, 2010, Sheriff Larkin explained that two officers (Officer
Perez and Bonifazi) were continuing in their assignments in
the Civil Courthouse at the request of the Superior Court
Judges to whom they had been assigned. Another officer, who
was not transferred, had presented a letter from a physician
indicating that reallocation to the Criminal Courthouse would
exacerbate his existing health condition.
Reasons for Request not to be Transferred (Amended
Complaint ¶ 30).
also alleges that Defendant knew that the Criminal Courthouse
was “medically unsafe”, but that she was
transferred there anyway. Plaintiff alleges that exposure to
asbestos was causing her to have some medical issues.
According to Plaintiff, in April, 2012, her physician advised
her that she should not work in a building contaminated with
asbestos, and Plaintiff allegedly submitted a note from her
physician regarding same. According to Plaintiff, after she
delivered the note from her doctor, Undersheriff Ellison, an
African American officer, and Defendant Richard Piotrowski
asked her to surrender her weapon and report to the
county's doctor to see if she was fit for duty. (Amended
Complaint ¶57-59). Plaintiff alleges that she was forced
to walk to the doctor's office without her weapon or
uniform. She alleges that this command placed her in danger
from detainees and it was mandated as a means of retaliating
against her for filing her doctor's note. (Id.)
rebuts this allegation by noting that all officers are
required to store their service weapon at the Sheriff's
office prior to visiting the County doctor. As a matter of
policy and safety, officers are prohibited from bringing
weapons into the doctor's office. (Ellison Cert.
¶6). Further, Defendant rebuts that Plaintiff was not
forced to walk, or placed in danger, but was instead driven
to the parking garage to obtain her personal vehicle, which
she drove to the County Doctor. (Ellison Cert. ¶7).
being examined by the County doctor, Plaintiff did not return
to work for a few days due to high blood pressure. When she
returned, she had a note from her personal physician ...