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Gomez v. Rent-A-Center, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 10, 2018

ALTAGRACIA GOMEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
RENT-A-CENTER, INC., JOHN DOES #1-10, ABC ENTITIES #1-10, Defendants.

          OPINION

          KEVIN MCNULTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Altagracia Gomez ("Ms. Gomez") sues her former employer, Rent-A-Center, Inc. ("Rent-A-Center"). She alleges that she was harassed and wrongfully terminated because of her race, national origin, disability, and status as a single mother-and also for reporting illegal conduct. Now before the court is Rent-A-Center's motion to dismiss and compel arbitration.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Altagracia Gomez is a New Jersey resident who began working for defendant Rent-A-Center in 2002. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 9). Ms. Gomez worked until 2013, when she was allegedly forced to resign because she was unable to work assigned hours and needed to take care of new newborn child. (Compl. ¶ 9).

         Ms. Gomez reapplied to work at Rent-A-Center around April 2016. (Compl. ¶ 10). She was hired as an assistant manager around May 2016 in a Jersey City location. (Compl. ¶ 10). Rent-A-Center agreed that her work hours would be from 9:00am to 5:30pm. (Compl. ¶ 11). This accommodation was provided to Ms. Gomez because she was a single mother and has medical needs related to iron deficiency, anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency, and thrombophilia. (Compl. ¶ 12). Her direct supervisor, Ms. Maribelle Esteves, was aware of this accommodation. (Compl. ¶ 12).

         On June 2016, Ms. Gomez noticed that money was missing or unaccounted for from the register. (Compl. ¶ 14). She immediately reported the issue to Ms. Esteves. (Compl. ¶ 14). Ms. Esteves did not take corrective action and the issue continued into July 2016. (Compl. ¶¶ 15-16). Ms. Gomez reported her concern to the district manager, Mr. Alberto Ramos. (Compl. ¶ 16). However, Mr. Ramos did not take corrective action and told Ms. Gomez just to do her job. (Compl. ¶ 16).

         Additionally, several managers or co-workers made racist comments and jokes regarding Ms. Gomez's Dominican ethnicity and accent. (Compl. ¶ 18). Rent-A-Center held a meeting to discuss this conduct toward Ms. Gomez on or about October 10, 2016. (Compl. ¶ 18).

         Around November 2016, Ms. Esteves changed Ms. Gomez's hours and required her to work until 7:00pm on Mondays and Fridays. (Compl. ¶¶ 19-20). She was required to work those hours or would lose her job. (Compl. ¶ 20). This change interfered with Ms. Gomez obtaining care for her medical needs and her child. (Compl. ¶ 21). Ms. Gomez's medical conditions worsened; she was diagnosed with major depressive disorder in November 2016. (Compl. 123).

         On December 8, 2016, Ms. Gomez allegedly witnessed Ms. Esteves and her son take two Xbox One video game consoles from Rent-A-Center without purchasing or renting die equipment. (Compl. ¶ 24). Ms. Gomez reported this to Mr. Ramos the same day but Mr. Ramos refused to take any action. (Compl. 124).

         On December 10, 2016, Rent-A-Center terminated Ms. Gomez. (Compl. ¶ 25). Ms. Gomez alleges that this was done in retaliation for reporting Ms.

         Esteves and as a result of her race, national origin, disability, and status as a single mother. (Compl. ¶ 26). She seeks damages for lost front and back pay, emotional distress, lost employment benefits, and an impaired reputation. (Compl. ¶ 27). Ms. Gomez asserts eight counts:

Count 1: Violation of the Conscientious Employee Protection Act ("CEPA") - hostile work environment (Compl. ¶¶ 29-34)
Count 2: Violation of CEPA - adverse employment actions (Compl. ¶¶ 35-40)
Count 3: Violation of public policy per Pierce v. Ortho Pharmaceutical Corp., 417 A.2d 505 (N.J. 1980) (Compl. ¶¶ 41-44)
Count 4: Violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD") - adverse employment action (Compl. ¶¶ 45-54)
Count 5: Violation of NJLAD - failure to accommodate disability (Compl. ¶¶ 55-62)
■ Count 6: Violation of NJLAD - harassment (Compl. ...

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