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Hopkins v. Kuehne Nagel Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 28, 2018




         THIS MATTER comes before the Court by way of Defendant Kuehne Nagel Inc.'s (“K”) and Defendant Maren Dedermann's (“Dedermann” or together with K, “Defendants”) motion for partial summary judgment against Plaintiff Jacquelyn Hopkins (“Plaintiff” or “Hopkins”). ECF No. 50. Plaintiff opposes the motion. ECF No. 51. For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. I. Background In this employment dispute, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants discriminated against her because of her age and her disability. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants subjected her to a pattern of continuous and ongoing harassment, which ultimately culminated in her constructive discharge.

         A. Employment at K

         Plaintiff was born on March 5, 1961. Defs.' Stmt. of Facts ¶ 1, ECF No. 50-2.[1] She was hired to work in K's accounting department in 1985. Id. ¶ 2. In 1995, Plaintiff began working as a brokerage clerk in K's import department and became an Import Coordinator in 1999. Id. ¶¶ 76-77. She was supervised directly by the Import Supervisor, who reported to the Import Manager. Id. ¶ 79-80.

         In August 2012, Maren Dedermann became the Import Manager. Id. ¶ 95. Towards the end of 2012, Dedermann informed Plaintiff that the Import Department had received a “low” grade for opening files; as a result, Dedermann told Plaintiff that she needed to take on that task. Id. ¶ 111. Although Plaintiff was uncomfortable with opening new files, she told Dedermann that she would do it until someone else was hired. Id. ¶ 111. Dedermann reassigned five of Plaintiff's clients to another Import Coordinator because she noticed that Plaintiff was unable to handle as much work as her colleagues. Id. ¶ 116. Plaintiff continued working with her remaining four clients and did not complain to human resources about opening new files. Id. ¶¶ 117, 123. Because Plaintiff was opening files in addition to her regular work, she often stayed late to complete her work. Pl.'s Counter Stmt. ¶ 20. Though her job title and base pay did not change, Plaintiff later received a two percent raise instead of the usual annual four percent because she needed to “process more shipments per month.” Hopkins Dep. Tr. 104-06.

         At some point prior to May 2013, Plaintiff told Dedermann that she and her boyfriend made a nice couple. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 126. She also told Dedermann that she “should make beautiful children.” Id. ¶ 127. Dedermann replied that Plaintiff could be her babysitter when she retired. Id. ¶ 128. Plaintiff did not complain to anyone inform human resources about Dedermann's comment. Id. ¶¶ 129-30.

         On the morning of May 28, 2013, Plaintiff experienced dizziness during her morning commute and left work early. Id. ¶¶ 133-35. Plaintiff took paid vacation days on May 28, 30, and 31, and took a paid sick day on May 29. Id. ¶¶ 136-37. On May 30, 2013, Plaintiff saw her primary care physician, Dr. Parnes, who diagnosed her with a Transient Ischemic Attack (“TIA”). Pl.'s Counter Stmt. ¶ 38. Plaintiff went for a series of medical tests after she saw Dr. Parnes. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 140. Plaintiff's echocardiogram, CT scan, and carotid artery test came back negative for a TIA. Defs.' Stmt. ¶¶ 143-45. Plaintiff testified that she was not aware of any test that demonstrated that a TIA definitively occurred. Id. ¶ 146.

         Plaintiff returned to work on June 3, 2013. Id. ¶ 150. On days that she had follow-up medical testing, Plaintiff used paid vacation days because she had already utilized her sick days for the year. Id. ¶¶ 151-55, 169. However, Dedermann failed to keep Plaintiff's accrued time current, which complicated her ability to take time off. Id. ¶ 43. Plaintiff did not indicate that she was taking time off to go to the doctor, id. ¶ 157, and never told her immediate supervisor, Susan Marme (“Marme”), how often she was going to the doctor, id. ¶ 161. Around this time, Dedermann assigned Plaintiff three or four new customers because the sales team had brought in new business. Id. ¶¶ 174-75. Plaintiff verbally complained to Dedermann that she was still required to open new files. Id. ¶ 177.

         In January 2014, Plaintiff received a performance rating of 6.5 out of 10 during her review, which falls between “fully satisfactory” and “excellent.” Id. ¶¶ 181-82. Plaintiff had received a performance rating of 6.0 the prior year. Id. ¶ 183. According to Plaintiff, Dedermann commented about Plaintiff's attendance during her review and told her that she didn't care that Plaintiff had been sick. Id. ¶ 180; Pl.'s Counter Stmt. ¶ 31. Plaintiff's review form also indicated that her “attendance was an issue” and “needs to approve in 2014 - lots of unplanned days out of the office.” Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 186. Plaintiff signed her review and never complained about Dedermann's alleged comments. Id. ¶¶ 187, 189.

         On March 26, 2014, Plaintiff saw Dr. Parnes because she believed she was having heart palpitations. Id. ¶ 194. Plaintiff used a vacation day and did not tell anyone at K about her palpitations. Id. ¶¶ 195-96. By March 31, 2014, Plaintiff had exhausted her allotment of annual sick days. Id. ¶¶ 191-93. Thus, Plaintiff requested two half days of vacation via K's time management system for additional medical testing.[2] Id. ¶¶ 197-98. In her request, Plaintiff indicated that she was getting a heart monitor and an echocardiogram. Id. ¶¶ 199-200. Plaintiff's request for two half days was ultimately approved. Id. ¶ 201. After the first day of testing, however, Plaintiff advised Marme that she would need to take two full days of vacation. Id. ¶¶ 203-04.

         When Plaintiff returned to work on April 3, 2014, Dedermann told Plaintiff that they had to talk because Plaintiff had used all of her sick time. Id. ¶ 206. According to Plaintiff, Dedermann became loud and intimidating. Id. Nevertheless, Plaintiff later admitted that Dedermann's behavior was not inappropriate. Id. ¶ 214. Dedermann advised Plaintiff that she wanted her “written up with a final warning.” Defs.' Ex. FF; see Hopkins Dep. Tr. 174:5-10. Following their conversation, Plaintiff complained to Nadine Jones (“Jones”) in K's compliance department about the incident with Dedermann. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 218. Jones told Plaintiff that she would document the issue and discuss it with upper management. Id. ¶¶ 226-27. Several days later, David Beegle (“Beegle”), the Human Resources Business Partner at K, informed Plaintiff that she had exceeded her allotted sick days. Id. ¶ 231. Plaintiff claims that she was given a piece of paper to sign during their meeting, but she did not read it and was not given a copy. Id. ¶¶ 232- 35. After that meeting, no one ever spoke to Plaintiff about her potential termination. Id. ¶ 237.

         Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff met with Beegle to discuss her Dedermann complaint. Id. ¶¶ 258-59. Beegle then interviewed six employees of varying races, genders, national origins, and ages. Id. ¶¶ 269-70. Beegle also interviewed Dedermann. Id. ¶ 272. Beegle ultimately concluded that Dedermann should be coached to control her emotions when dealing with conflict. Id. ¶ 276. While all six employees interviewed felt that there was “some sort of favoritism” within the department, Beegle did not find that any protected class consistently received favoritism. Defs.' Ex. HH. As such, Beegle found Plaintiff's allegation that national origin, age, and race impacted treatment of employees to be uncorroborated. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 275. Beegle subsequently counseled Dedermann regarding K's policies and specifically told her that retaliating against employees who make complaints was prohibited. Id. ¶¶ 277-79, 281. In addition, Dedermann completed a workplace harassment training course. Id. ¶ 280. Upper management declined to otherwise discipline Dedermann and Plaintiff was never informed of the investigation's outcome. Pl.'s Counter Stmt. ¶¶ 67, 70. From then on, however, Dedermann's interactions with Plaintiff were limited to business-related issues. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 290. Dedermann did not criticize Plaintiff's work performance or show any anger towards her. Id. ¶¶ 294-95. Plaintiff made no further complaints to human resources or compliance about Dedermann or anyone else. Id. ¶¶ 297-98.

         Around this time, Beegle suggested that Plaintiff take intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Id. ¶ 299. Cigna ultimately approved Plaintiff's request for the period of April 2, 2014 to October 1, 2014. Id. ¶¶ 304-05. No. one at K gave Plaintiff a difficult time about her application. Id. ¶¶ 308-09. However, instead of using her approved FMLA time, Plaintiff used vacation time when she needed days off. Id. ¶¶ 310-11. Plaintiff was never disciplined for this practice. Id. ¶¶ 312-15.

         On October 3, 2014, Plaintiff was offered the position of logistics manager for Safe Food Corporation. Id. ¶ 316. Though the position came with fewer benefits, a lower salary, and additional travel time, Plaintiff resigned from K several hours after receiving the offer. Pl.'s Counter Stmt. ¶ 75. In an e-mail to Dedermann, Plaintiff noted that K would “always be not just a work place . . . but a family.” Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 320. She also explained that she was seeking different opportunities, including “some additional schooling.” Id. Plaintiff later testified that the explanation provided in her e-mail was an accurate summary of why she decided to resign. Id. ¶ 322. Plaintiff also confirmed that no one at K forced or threatened her to resign. Id. ¶¶ 325- 328.

         Although Plaintiff could not identify any specific incident with Dedermann that pushed her to leave, she maintained that she felt uncomfortable at the time of her resignation because “the level of trust” between them had broken down. Id. ¶ 330-31. Nevertheless, Plaintiff never told anyone at K that she was considering resigning because of the situation with Dedermann. Id. ¶ 348. During Plaintiff's exit interview, Plaintiff told Beegle that she was moving on to other things. Id. ¶ 351. Moreover, when Beegle asked Plaintiff whether she wanted to work elsewhere within the company, Plaintiff declined his offer. Id. ¶¶ 352-53. During her deposition, Plaintiff stated that she currently experiences anxiety because of everything that occurred at K. Hopkins Dep. Tr. 485:3-13.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit on October 14, 2015. See ECF No. 1. On December 18, 2015, Defendants filed a Motion for Partial Dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint. ECF No. 3. On June 29, 2016, the Court granted Defendants' Motion in part and dismissed Plaintiff's federal and state overtime claims without prejudice. See ECF No. 10. Plaintiff then filed an Amended Complaint on July 12, 2016. Am. Compl., ECF No. 13. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts causes of action for: (1) violations of the FMLA for failure to offer Plaintiff FMLA leave and for subjecting Plaintiff to a pattern of continuous harassment which led to her constructive discharge; (2) violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD” or “LAD”) for unlawful discrimination on the basis of her gender, age, disability, and/or national origin[3]; (3) violation of NJLAD for creating a hostile work environment; (4) violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) for failure to pay overtime compensation[4]; (5) violation of the New Jersey Wage and Hour Law (“NJWHL”) for failure to pay overtime compensation; and (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 58-101. Defendants answered the Complaint, ECF No. 176, and now seek summary judgment on all claims except the timely overtime claims brought under the FLSA and NJWHL, ECF No. 50.

         II. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c), a motion for summary judgment will be granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with available affidavits, show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). “[S]ummary judgment may be granted only if there exists no genuine issue of material fact that would permit a reasonable jury to find for the nonmoving party.” Miller v. Ind. Hosp., 843 F.2d 139, 143 (3d Cir. 1988). All facts and inferences must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Peters v. Del. River Port Auth., 16 F.3d 1346, 1349 (3d Cir. 1994).

         III. Analysis

         A. FMLA Claims

         1. Constructive Discharge

         Defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's constructive discharge claim because Plaintiff has not shown that she was subjected to objectively intolerable conditions. Defs.' Br. at 12-16. The Court agrees.

         To establish a claim for constructive discharge, Plaintiff must show that Defendants “knowingly permitted conditions of discrimination in employment so intolerable that a reasonable person subject to them would resign.” Gross v. Exxon Office Sys. Co., 747 F.2d 885, 888 (3d Cir. 1984). “Intolerability . . . is assessed by the objective standard of whether a ‘reasonable person' in the employee's position would have felt compelled to resign-that is, whether [she] would have had no choice but to resign.” Tanganelli v. Talbots, Inc., 169 Fed.Appx. 124, 127 (3d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks omitted); see McDonough v. Cooksey, 05-cv-00135 (JHR), 2007 WL 1456202, ...

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