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Penn v. Exxonmobil Research and Engineering Co.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 30, 2019

MARC PENN, Plaintiff,
v.
EXXONMOBIL RESEARCH AND ENGINEERING COMPANY, Defendant.

          OPINION

          HON. JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (“EMRE”). Having considered the parties' submissions, the Court decides this matter without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78(b). For the reasons stated below, this Court grants Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Marc Penn, who is African-American, has been employed by Defendant since April 2006 at its Paulsboro, New Jersey facility. He was primarily supervised by Mike Carrocino, a Facility Manager, and Ben McLaughlin, Building Services Supervisor; they are Caucasian. He alleged the following facts in his Complaint. [Dkt. No. 1]

         In or about August of 2012, Plaintiff expressed concerns of discrimination internally and externally (including through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “EEOC”). In or about December of 2012, he was returned to the “GREF group” expecting a full and final resolution to any prior concerns. He did not initiate a lawsuit based upon his 2012 EEOC Charge.

         Following his return to the GREF Group, however, Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to a hostile work environment, multiple discriminatory and retaliatory actions, and antagonism because of his race and complaints of discriminatory treatment. Through 2014, Plaintiff states that he was: at times denied access into the workplace (through lack of card access); arbitrarily removed from multiple committees, including the Safety Committee and United Way Committee; not scheduled as requested or given the same scheduling accommodations as similarly situated coworkers, at times being denied the ability to leave work for a scheduled appointment; not given previously assured training despite multiple requests; spoken to in a condescending and inappropriate manner when he was addressed in the workplace; and Plaintiff further alleges that his e-mail and correspondence regarding workplace matters were ignored.

         Plaintiff also alleges that: without adequate factual or legal basis, Defendant mandated Plaintiff undergo a fitness for duty evaluation as a condition of continued employment wherein he was removed from work on or about May 17, 2014; he underwent an evaluation with a psychologist selected by Defendant after being out of work for a period of time; and, notwithstanding the psychologist finding no rational basis for Plaintiff's referral or continued need to remain out of work, Plaintiff was out of work until about mid-August 2014 (a period of approximately three months).

         In the second half of June 2018, Plaintiff allegedly was threatened in writing by Defendant's management with being considered to have resigned for expressing that he did not want Defendant to seek more detailed medical information after Defendant's psychologist had already issued a detailed report outlining that Plaintiff posed no threat and should not be kept out of work. Upon returning to work from his “forced” leave after having raised numerous concerns of his ongoing mistreatment, Plaintiff was issued a five-day suspension in August of 2014 (to which he expressed concerns about being held responsible for a policy violation that took place while on leave and which was not enforced against others). Plaintiff was at times requested or required to give daily and weekly updates about certain aspects of his job that were not sought from others. Finally, Plaintiff alleges he was not given fair, equal, or actual overtime hours to work, in contrast with others. The types of treatment Plaintiff experienced allegedly continued through 2015 and until his supervision changed.

         Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this action on May 4, 2017, asserting claims for racial discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. [Dkt. No. 1]. Defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint on July 18, 2017. [Dkt. No. 7]. Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims on June 29, 2018. [Dkt. No. 30]. The Motion has been fully briefed by the parties.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         “Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471, 482 n.1 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)); accord Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (a). Thus, the Court will enter summary judgment in favor of a movant who shows that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and supports the showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 (c)(1)(A).

         An issue is “genuine” if supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is “material” if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.; Maidenbaum v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 870 F.Supp. 1254, 1258 (D.N.J. 1994). Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. “A nonmoving party may not ‘rest upon mere allegations, general denials or . . . vague statements . . . .'” Trap Rock Indus., Inc. v. Local 825, Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Quiroga v. Hasbro, Inc., 934 F.2d 497, 500 (3d Cir. 1991)). Indeed,

the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.

Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. That is, the movant can support the assertion that a fact cannot be genuinely disputed by showing that “an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the [alleged dispute of] fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B); accord Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2).

         In deciding the merits of a party's motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Credibility determinations are the province of the factfinder. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

         III. Discussion

         The NJLAD “was enacted with the express purpose of protecting civil rights, particularly in the area of employment discrimination, where the NJLAD declares that the opportunity to gain employment without fear of discrimination is a civil right.” Thurston v. Cherry Hill Triplex, 941 F.Supp.2d 520, 534 (D.N.J. 2008); see Fuchilla v. Layman, 537 A.2d 652, 660 (N.J. 1988) (“[T]he overarching goal of the [N]LAD] is nothing less than the eradication ‘of the cancer of discrimination.'” (quoting Jackson v. Concord Co., 253 A.2d 793, 799 (N.J. 1969)))

         The New Jersey Supreme Court has explained that the NJLAD is broad remedial legislation, designed to prohibit employers from discriminating against employees with respect to the terms and conditions of their employment on the basis of a protected characteristic, such as race, religion, age, sex, and disability. See Quinlan v. Curtiss-Wright Corp., 8 A.3d 209, 220 (N.J. 2010) (“We have been vigilant in interpreting the [N]LAD] in accordance with that overarching purpose, and in recognition that it is . . . remedial legislation that was intended to be given a broad and liberal interpretation.”); see also N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-12(a) (listing the various protected classes under the NJLAD).

         Workplace discrimination claims brought under the NJLAD are analyzed under the flexible burden-shifting framework established by the United States Supreme Court in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792 (1973). Viscik v. Fowler Equipment Co., 800 A.2d 826 (N.J. 2002) (adopting McDonnell Douglas framework for NJLAD employment discrimination cases); Schurr v. Resorts Int'l Hotel, Inc., 196 F.3d 486, 493 (3d Cir.1999) (“Analysis of a claim made pursuant to the NJLAD generally follows analysis of a Title VII claim.”). Additionally, “the substantive elements of a claim under section 1981 generally identical to the elements of an employment discrimination claim under Title VII.” Brown v. J. Kaz, Inc., 581 F.3d 175, 181-82 (3d Cir. 2009). Accordingly, the Court will analyze Plaintiff's several race discrimination claims simultaneously.

         A. Plaintiff's Racial Discrimination Claims

         Defendant moves for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's racial discrimination claims under Section 1981, Title VII, and NJLAD arguing that Plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case for his disparate treatment claims because (1) he did not suffer an actionable adverse employment action, and (2) even if Plaintiff had, he cannot prove the ultimate inference of discrimination. Defendant's motion for summary judgment further provides that even if a prima face case for discrimination against it exists, ...


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