United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
EIBELER, LLC By: Robert W. Smith, Esq.; Christopher J.
Eibeler, Esq. Counsel for Plaintiff Nicholas Walters
PORZIO, BROMBERG & NEWMAN, P.C. By: Kerri A. Wright, Esq.
VORYS, SATER, SEYMOUR AND PEASE LLP By: Daniel J. Clark, Esq.
By: Liana R. Hollingsworth, Esq. Counsel for Defendant
Safelite Fulfillment, Inc.
OPINION [DKT. NO. 35]
RENÉE MARIE BUMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE:
Nicholas Walters (“Plaintiff”) brings this action
against Defendant Safelite Fulfillment, Inc.
(“Defendant” or “Safelite”), alleging
retaliation and associational discrimination/wrongful
discharge in violation of the New Jersey Law Against
Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq.
(“NJLAD”) and retaliation in violation of the
Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J.S.A. 34:19-1,
et seq. (“CEPA”). This Court previously
issued an Opinion and Order [Dkt. Nos. 28, 29] dismissing
Plaintiff's initial complaint, without prejudice, but
permitted Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint, which he
did on April 23, 2019 [Dkt. No. 30]. Now, this matter comes
before this Court upon Defendant's Motion to Dismiss
Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint in its entirety, or
alternatively, for Summary Judgment or a Change of Venue (the
“Second MTD”)[Dkt. No. 35].At this stage of
the litigation, without substantive discovery and clear
disputes of material fact, the Court declines to convert the
Second MTD into a motion for summary judgment. For the
reasons set forth herein, Defendant's Second MTD will be
Nicholas Walters is a resident of Connecticut and was
employed by Safelite for about twelve years, until his
termination in 2017. Plaintiff worked for Safelite at a
location in Cherry Hill, New Jersey from 2005 until March
2015, when he was transferred to a location in Connecticut.
See Am. Compl., at ¶¶ 8-10, 27-28. During
his employment, Plaintiff states that he was promoted twice,
first to Assistant Store Manager in 2011 and then to Store
Manager in September 2015. Id., at ¶¶
9-10, 25. In April 2017, approximately two years after his
transfer to Connecticut, Plaintiff's employment was
Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he requested the
transfer to Connecticut because of his moral objections to
local management's efforts to discriminate against a
female employee on pregnancy/maternity leave. According to
Plaintiff, in late 2014 or early 2015, Kennan McCafferty
(District Manager) and Sam Lok (Operations Manager)
approached Plaintiff and offered him a promotion to replace
Shelby Klein as Store Manager of the Absecon, New Jersey
location. See Am. Compl., at ¶ 17-18. Mr.
McCafferty and Mr. Lok allegedly told Plaintiff that Ms.
Klein would be terminated upon her return from pregnancy
leave, but that they would be waiting to fire her until she
returned to work, “so it would not seem as if she was
being fired for taking maternity leave.” Id.
Plaintiff claims that he told management that what they were
doing as “unethical” and that he would not accept
the promotion under those circumstances. Id. at 19.
Instead, Plaintiff states that he requested the transfer to
Connecticut “so that he could get out of the
Philadelphia region, and away from its management team and
the Regional Business Partner Greg Byrd.”. Id.
at ¶ 24.
2016, over a year after transferring to Connecticut,
Plaintiff alleges that he learned that managers in the
Philadelphia region had been discriminating against Greg
Manning, a technician at the Cherry Hill location. According
to Plaintiff, Mr. Manning, who had recently returned to work
from a medical leave for ankle surgery, was being ridiculed
and mistreated by management based on his disabilities, which
included diabetes and obesity. See Am. Compl., at
¶¶ 35-41. In Plaintiff's opinion, Mr.
Manning's disabilities were a motivating factor in
management's decision to place Mr. Manning on
administrative leave on December 2, 2016. Id. at
Mr. Manning informed Plaintiff about the discriminatory
conduct he was facing at work, Plaintiff sent an email to
Dale Sweigart (East Region Quality and Training Manager),
stating that Plaintiff was “very concerned” about
the situation with Mr. Manning. Am. Compl., at ¶ 112. In
that email, Plaintiff noted that Mr. Manning “had
complained of unfair treatment due to his diabetes and
weight.” Plaintiff asked Mr. Sweigart to investigate
the issue. Mr. Sweigart responded that he was “aware of
the situation in Philly, ” and that he “would let
Philadelphia and Greg Byrd deal with the situation.”
Id. at ¶ 117. Safelite ultimately terminated
Mr. Manning's employment on December 7, 2016.
Id. at ¶ 163.
alleges that his email regarding Mr. Manning was subsequently
forwarded to Philadelphia-area managers and to
Plaintiff's own Connecticut-based managers, including the
local HR representative in Connecticut. See Am.
Compl., at ¶¶ 133-139. According to Plaintiff, the
Philadelphia-area management team “had no legitimate
non-discriminatory business reason to forward Plaintiff
Walters's email” to Plaintiff's manager in
Connecticut. Id. at ¶ 134. Plaintiff alleges
that his email was shared with his Connecticut managers
“to further the Company's plan to retaliate against
Plaintiff Walters in his own employment for complaining about
and opposing the unlawful conduct directed at Mr. Manning and
for encouraging Mr. Manning to exercise his rights under the
law.” Id. at ¶ 135. Plaintiff also
alleges that “[i]f it were not for Plaintiff's
prior complaints about Shelby Klein, Defendant  would not
have implemented the plan of retaliation that resulted in his
termination.” Id. at ¶ 136
his complaint about Mr. Manning's treatment, Plaintiff
alleges that Defendant retaliated against him through
“an unwarranted and pretextual discipline warning on
February 10, 2017 and putting him on a Personal Development
Plan (“PDP”) on February 20, 2017.”
See Am. Compl., at ¶ 191. Additionally,
Plaintiff claims that he was scolded by management for
reporting the discriminatory conduct towards Mr. Manning,
because Plaintiff “was going to get the Company sued as
a result of sending the email.” Id. at
¶¶ 183-185. On April 10, 2017, Plaintiff was
terminated from his employment with the Safelite.
Id. at ¶ 198.
27, 2018, Plaintiff filed his initial Complaint [Dkt. No. 1],
alleging that Defendant violated NJLAD (1) by retaliating
against Plaintiff for complaining about and objecting to
discriminatory conduct towards Mr. Manning; and (2) for
terminating Plaintiff for associating with Mr. Manning. On
March 28, 2019, this Court dismissed Plaintiff's initial
Complaint, without prejudice, finding that Plaintiff had
failed to sufficiently allege facts to support standing under
NJLAD. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on
April 23, 2019 [Dkt. No. 30], in which he alleged additional
facts related to his NJLAD claims and added a CEPA
retaliation claim. Now, Defendant moves to dismiss
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, or in the alternative for
summary judgment or a transfer of venue to U.S. District
Court for the District of Connecticut.
withstand a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6), “a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)(quoting
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 662.
“[A]n unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation” does not suffice to survive a motion to
dismiss. Id. at 678. “[A] plaintiff's
obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his
‘entitle[ment] to ...