United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
B. KUGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
MATTER comes before the Court on Defendants Atlantic
County Special Services School District and Eric
Flecken's (referred to collectively as
“Defendants”) Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 27)
Plaintiff Sandra Mohamed's Amended Complaint (Doc. No.
26) under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint alleges unlawful
discrimination, harassment, and retaliation under Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New Jersey Law Against
Discrimination (“NJ LAD”), and the New Jersey
Conscientious Employee Protection Act (“NJ
CEPA”). For the reasons below, Defendants' Motion
is GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part.
a case involving alleged racial discrimination and
retaliation in the workplace. Sandra Mohamed
(“Plaintiff”) is a sixty-year-old African
American woman. (Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 26) at ¶ 15.)
Atlantic County Special Services School District (“the
District”) first hired her in September 1993 to serve
as a teacher's assistant for students with special needs.
(Id. at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff worked for the
District for over twenty-three years, until her termination
in January 2017. (Id. at ¶¶ 18-19.) During
the relevant period, Plaintiff reported to Eric Flecken
(“Flecken” or “Supervisor Flecken”).
(Id. at ¶ 25.)
claims that Defendants discriminated against her because of
her race. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Specifically, she
asserts that Supervisor Flecken targeted Plaintiff.
(Id. at ¶ 25.) For example, Flecken reassigned
her nineteen times during her employment, an “unheard
of” and unnecessary number of reassignments given the
large number of available employees. (Id. at
¶¶ 24-25.) Flecken also purportedly passed
Plaintiff over for promotion in favor of a “much less
experienced and capable” Caucasian employee.
(Id. at ¶ 27.) Despite Plaintiff's
“stellar job performance and positive review, ”
Supervisor Flecken “always made it clear . . . that he
did not value [Plaintiff] and made her life difficult”
and “used adverse action to make her position
impossible.” (Id. at ¶¶ 26, 31.)
racial discrimination also extended to other African-American
employees. (Id. at ¶ 28.) Plaintiff claims that
Defendants disciplined African American employees far more
frequently than Caucasian ones. (Id. at ¶ 21.)
Defendants also had a racially biased approach to enforcing
the District's hours policy because Flecken permitted
many employees, including himself, to arrive late and leave
work early. (Id. at ¶¶ 21, 48.) African
American employees, however, faced discipline if they
attempted to arrive late or leave early. (Id. at
¶ 21.) Plaintiff also claims that Flecken instituted a
“a particular employment practice” to limit
African American assistants and certified staff to work in
the off-campus, school-to-career based program. (Id.
at ¶¶ 29, 30.) Plaintiff claims that Defendants
denied at least four minority students access to the program
of their choice. (Id. at ¶ 36.) These students,
like Plaintiff, believed that Defendants denied these
students the program of their choice because of their race.
(Id.) In addition, Flecken only permitted two
Caucasian assistants to work in one select program, despite
half of the students having diverse backgrounds.
(Id. at ¶¶ 30-31.)
March 2016, Plaintiff wrote a letter to the District's
Vice Principal to bring attention to the racist culture
within the District's employment practices. (Id.
at ¶ 38.) Plaintiff also spoke with Flecken's
supervisor and informed the teachers' union.
(Id. at ¶ 39.) Plaintiff claims that Defendants
did not take her claims seriously. (Id.) In
addition, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants ordered her to
return to work and retaliated against her. (Id.)
time of Plaintiff's letter to the District's Vice
Principal, she worked for the District and assisted students
in job training for the casino industry. (Id. at
¶ 34.) Following her submission of this letter,
Plaintiff explained that members of the staff now refused to
work with her. (Id. at ¶ 41.) Specifically, the
Arc of Cumberland County Job Coach did not want Plaintiff
involved in the job coach program anymore. (Id.)
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants excluded her from the
program “because of her race” and because
“she was a minority who spoke for issues that affected
the long-term progress with employment in the casino.”
(Id.) As such, the Job Coach, in coordination with
Supervisor Flecken, began a “campaign” of
excluding Plaintiff from meetings. (Id.) Plaintiff
also claims that Defendants petitioned her partner to assist
in removing Plaintiff from the program. (Id. at
claims that “the brick wall of institutionalized
prejudice” caused her several injuries. (Id.
at ¶¶ 50-52.) Plaintiff alleges that she suffered
from stress, anxiety, and depression. (Id.) As a
result, Plaintiff took FMLA leave in September 2016.
(Id. at ¶ 52.) Plaintiff's doctor provided
information on Plaintiff's leave directly to Defendants.
(Id. at ¶ 54.) Plaintiff's FMLA leave ran
until November 26, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 53.)
end of Plaintiff's FMLA leave, Plaintiff continued to
need medical treatment and requested an extension until
January 3, 2017. (Id. at ¶ 56.) By January 3,
however, Plaintiff remained unable to return to work.
(Id. at ¶ 57.) Plaintiff called the District
through its automated call-out line and informed them that
she could not return despite her FMLA leave expiration.
(Id. at ¶¶ 57-58.) Defendants never
indicated to Plaintiff that she could not extend her FMLA
leave further. (Id. at ¶ 59.)
January 9, 2017, Plaintiff received a letter from the
District stating that the Board of Education would meet on
January 23, 2017 to discuss her employment. (Id. at
¶¶ 60-61.) The letter did not mention her recent
absences but stated that if Plaintiff wanted to discuss her
employment, she could request the meeting be made public.
(Id.) Plaintiff claimed that she began to feel
“sick to [her] stomach” at the idea that the
public would hear about her stress, anxiety, and depression.
(Id. at ¶ 62.) Plaintiff therefore did not
attend the meeting. (Id. at ¶ 65.) Plaintiff
alleges that Defendants used the possibility of a public
hearing as a tactic, knowing that Plaintiff would be unable
to speak about her employment and mental health in a public
forum. (Id. at ¶¶ 63-64.)
Plaintiff did not attend the meeting, the Board of Education
sent Plaintiff a letter stating that she would be discharged
if she did not return to work by January 30, 2017.
(Id. at ¶¶ 65-66.) The District made no
effort to contact Plaintiff beyond this letter. (Id.
at ¶ 66.) Moreover, Plaintiff did not receive this
letter until after January 30, 2017 because a family member
who had signed for the letter did not give it to her until
after that date. (Id. at ¶ 67.) Plaintiff
further claims that, even if she had received the letter when
it reached her home, she had a mere three days' notice of
the hearing. (Id. at ¶ 68.)
early February, Plaintiff received a letter terminating her
employment. (Id. at ¶ 68.) She claims that this
letter first informed her that a previous one had been sent,
the one allegedly received by her family member.
(Id.) Plaintiff requested her job back and informed
the District that she did not know of the prior letter until
after the January 30 deadline had passed. (Id. at
¶ 69.) However, the District denied Plaintiff's
EEOC Charge and Right to Sue Letter
filed an EEOC Charge on February 23, 2017 alleging race and
retaliation discrimination. (EEOC Charge at 2 (Doc. No. 27,
Exhibit B).) The Charge explains that the District retaliated
against Plaintiff for writing the letter, and it details
Defendants' discrimination against students.
(Id.) Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that
Defendants used the information she provided to the District
and teachers' union against her. (Id.) The
Charge concludes that “Respondent has retaliated
against me for taking part in a protected activity Race
(African American).” (Id.) The Charge also
indicates that the discrimination took place from March 1,
2016 to January 30, 2017. (Id.) On March 1, 2017,
the EEOC provided Plaintiff a Right to Sue Letter in response
to the EEOC Charge. (Id. at 3.)