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Carr v. State of New Jersey Department of Human Services

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 23, 2019

KATHLEEN CARR Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment brought by Defendant the State of New Jersey Department of Human Services, Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, Ancora Psychiatric Hospital, Teresa McQuaide, and Christopher Morrison (hereinafter collectively as "Defendants"). (ECFNo. 27).

         I.

         Generally, Defendants argue that the case should be dismissed because there was an ongoing state court process wherein an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division decided the matter. Accordingly, Defendants argue that the case is barred by res judicata, collateral estoppel and the entire controversy doctrine.

         More specifically, this matter was initially filed in the New Jersey Superior Court on August 5, 2013, then removed to this Court on a cause of action that asserted a violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. 2601 et seq. At the time that the Complaint was filed in this Court, the ALJ had not yet rendered a decision. The ALJ's decision was thereafter rendered on August 16, 2013. On October 9, 2014, this Court granted a stay on this matter due to a pending appeal before the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. (ECF No. 19). After the Appellate Division's decision, the stay was vacated, and on October 19, 2017, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 27), including a statement of uncontested material facts in support of their motion. ("Def. SOMF", ECF No. 27-2). Thereafter, Plaintiff submitted its response as well as a counterstatement of disputed material facts. (ECF No. 35-1).

         II.

         Presented below are the facts from Defendant's Statement of Uncontested Material Facts, and within same, Plaintiffs responses are set forth in footnotes.

         1) Plaintiff Kathleen Carr ("Plaintiff) is a former Personnel Assistant for Defendant Trenton Psychiatric Hospital ("TPH"). She transferred to TPH from the Ancora Psychiatric Hospital ("APH") in approximately November 2010.

         2) This matter arises from the suspension and ultimate removal of Plaintiff from her employment with TPH. Plaintiff argues that she "was discriminated against and subject to a hostile work environment due to gender, age and her own disability." 3) On May 24, 2011, TPH issued a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action (PNDA) to Plaintiff, suspending her for twenty (20) days, for misconduct, including:

a. failing to learn payroll procedures from her supervisor;
b. being uncooperative, argumentative, accusatory and inappropriate with a Human resources supervisor;
c. approving correspondence that contained incomplete and incorrect information;
d. failing to delete a former employee's access to the Time Keeping System after they were no longer employed by TPH;
e. attempting to return two employees to work who had been on extended leaves of absence without following proper TPH procedures; f. scheduling her own fingerprinting;
g. completing and reviewing her own Federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave;
h. refusing to complete the New Hire Package for new TPH employees;
i. disclosing confidential protected health information of employees who were out on leave;
j. failing to disclose two periods of employment with the State of New Jersey in her employment application; and
k. refusing to cooperate with interviewers from the Office of Employee Relations. (See Certification of Counsel, Ex. D).

         4) On November 9, 2011, TPH prepared a Final Notice of Disciplinary Action (FNDA) which imposed a suspension for twenty (20) working days commencing on a date which was to be determined later along with a demotion to the position of Personnel Assistant 2. (See Certification of Counsel, Ex. E)[1].

         5) Plaintiff appealed that determination and the matter was transmitted to the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law ("OAL") by the Civil Service Commission ("CSC").

         6) On February 23, 2012, TPH filed an Amended FNDA regarding Plaintiffs suspension. (See Certification of Counsel, Ex. F).

         7) On June 17, 2011, TPH issued another FNDA to Plaintiff, this time removing her from employment, and suspending her effective June 17, 2011 for misconduct, including:

a. refusing to update management and contact the Office of Employee Relations regarding a payroll staff member's performance;
b. referring to employees in an unprofessional and insubordinate manner, including calling an individual a "little squirt" and an "a**hole"; and
c. discussing the confidential disciplinary history of a member of the Payroll Office with another employee of TPH. (See, Certification of Counsel, Ex. H)[2].

         8) TPH prepared a FNDA on February 24, 2014, removing Plaintiff from employment effective August 5, 2011. (See Certification of Counsel, Ex. I). 9)Plaintiff appealed that determination and the matter was transferred to the OAL by the CSC.

         10) Plaintiffs suspension and removal from employment were both heard by Administrative Law Judge John R. Futey on September 25, September 27, November 21 and December 3, 2012, and February 12 and February 14, 2013.[3]

         11) The OAL specifically considered Plaintiffs Law Against Discrimination ("LAD") and Conscientious Employee Protection Act ("CEPA") claims and held that the "absence of any viable proofs by [Plaintiff] in... regard [to her LAD and CEPA claims] negates any such claims under the circumstances and, in any event, [Plaintiff] totally failed to carry her burden regarding those claims." (See Certification of Counsel, Ex. B, p. 34-35)[4].

         12) Judge Futey held that Plaintiff advanced her claims through the statutory framework of CEPA at her OAL proceeding. (See id., p. 30)[5].

         13) Judge Futey determined that Plaintiff "totally failed to carry her burden" under CEPA. (See id., p. 34-35).

         14) Judge Futey did not find "any actual animus or effort to retaliate against [Plaintiff] by TPH in any of its charges against her attendant to this matter." (See id.)[6].

         15) Judge Futey determined that TPH had shown legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons to demand her compliance with its orders and directives. (See id., p. 38)[7].

         16) Judge Futey found that "Plaintiffs request for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") was eventually approved, the initial issue was that it was unethical for Plaintiff to approve leave for herself in the first place. (See id., p. 9)[8].

         17) Judge Futey determined that Plaintiff "was the one who was in the position to routinely respond to appropriate directives [of her supervisors], yet, for whatever reason efforts of TPH to maintain and manage a viable institutional system." (See id.).

         18) Eleven (11) days before OAL reached its decision regarding Plaintiffs suspension and ultimate removal from employment (August 5, 2013) Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint. (See Certification of Counsel, Ex. A).

         19) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges in her Complaint that:

a. Plaintiff was subject to harassment, discrimination and retaliation on the basis of her age in violation of the LAD when she was issued her suspension and discharge. (Id., ¶¶ 17-130).
b. Plaintiff was subject to retaliation in violation of the CEP A when she was issued her suspension and discharge. (Id., ¶¶ 17-128, 131-132).
c. Plaintiff was subject to discrimination and retaliation in violation of the FMLA when she was issued her suspension and discharge. (Id., ¶¶ 17-128, 133-134).

         20) Plaintiff subsequently appealed the decision of Judge Futey to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. (See Certification of Counsel, Ex. C).

         21) In a decision dated August 7, 2017, the Appellate Division affirmed the CSC's ...


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