HADDIX v. CAMDEN COUNTY YOUTH DETENTION CENTER et al, No. 1:2013cv01594 - Document 47 (D.N.J. 2015)

Court Description: OPINION. Signed by Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez on 6/16/2015. (drw)
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HADDIX v. CAMDEN COUNTY YOUTH DETENTION CENTER et al Doc. 47 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW J ERSEY YULANDA HADDIX, v. Hon. J oseph H. Rodriguez : Civil Action No. 13-1594 : Plaintiff, : OPINION CAMDEN COUNTY YOUTH : DETENTION CENTER, CPT. ELARIS ROBINSON, individually, and CAMDEN : COUNTY EDUCATIONAL SERVICE COMMISSION, : Defendants. : This m atter is before the Court on Defendants’ m otions for sum m ary judgm ent. Oral argum ent on the m otions was heard on May 21, 20 15 and the record of that proceeding is incorporated here. For the reasons discussed on the record and those below, the m otions will be granted. Background Plaintiff Yulanda Haddix was an em ployee of Defendant Cam den County Educational Services Com m ission (“CCESC”). She was hired as a special education teacher in 1998 and worked at Defendant Cam den County Youth Detention Center (“CCYDC”) until J une 30 , 20 12. CCYDC is a detention center for troubled and/ or incarcerated youth under the control of the County of Cam den. The County of Cam den contracts with CCESC to provide education services to the detain ed youth housed at the CCYDC. (DelVecchio Aff., ¶2; Hardy Dep., 11:20 -25). CCESC hires the teachers to work at the Center on a contract basis. (DelVecchio Aff., ¶3). 1 Dockets.Justia.com Plaintiff held a Special Education certification from the State of New J ersey Departm ent of Education (“NJ DOE”). Earlier in her career, she taught all academ ic subjects including m ath, science, reading, and English. She becam e highly qualified in science by the NJ DOE. She then started to teach life skills, vocational education, and fam ily. (Haddix Dep., 24:13-25, 114:17-20 ; Hardy Aff., ¶ 4.) The NJ DOE requires a Certification to teach certain subjects, including fam ily life. (Hardy Dep., 23:13-24:2; Hardy Aff., ¶6.) Plaintiff did not have the required Certification in Fam ily and Consum er Scien ces. (Haddix Dep., 114:23-115:10 .) Tam m y Hardy, the CCESC site education supervisor at CCYDC, com m unicated the NJ DOE requirem ent to Plaintiff and others during her m onthly staff m eetings as far back as 20 0 9. (Hardy Dep., 24:7-26:12, Hardy Aff., ¶ 3 and 5.) In February 20 12, thenSuperintendent of CCESC, Dr. Edward Wasilewski, held a m eeting with Plaintiff and two other teachers, Kathleen Hyatt and Bernadette Swietanski, about their continued em ploym ent with CCESC. They were inform ed that to continue working at CCYDC they were to obtain subject m atter Certifications from the NJ DOE which required all three teachers to take a Praxis exam through the State of New J ersey and finish any rem ain ing coursework to obtain the Certifications. (Hardy Dep., 24:3-6, 27:11; Wasilewski Aff., ¶3, 11; Hardy Aff., ¶6.) The Certification requirem ent for the three CCESC em ployees was m andated by the County Superintendent, Margaret Nicolosi. (Hardy Dep., 22:13-17; Wasilewski Aff., ¶2 and 3; Hardy Aff. ¶6.) Thereafter, Plaintiff took the Praxis and failed. She had an opportunity to take the exam ination a second tim e, but chose not to do so. (Haddix Dep., 114-23-115:1; 117:19-118 :4; Wasilewski Aff., ¶8 and 11; Hardy Aff., ¶9.) On April 2, 20 12, CCESC issued a Rice Notice to Plaintiff inform ing her that her em ploym ent would be discussed 2 at the next CCESC board m eeting scheduled for April 4, 20 12. (Letter to Haddix from Dr. Wasilewski dated April 2, 20 12.) On April 4, 20 12 CCESC voted to term inate Plaintiff’s, Ms. Hyatt’s, and Ms. Swietanski’s em ploym ent because they did not hold the required certification m andated by the Cam den County Superinten dent of Schools and the State. However, during Dr. Wasilewski’s presentation to the Board, he m ade it clear that if Plaintiff were to obtain the proper certification, the CCESC would rescind her term ination. (Wasilewski Aff., ¶8 .) Plaintiff was notified of her term ination on April 5, 20 12, which was to be effective on J une 30 , 20 12. (Superintendent’s Report to the CCESC’s Board of Directors dated April 4, 20 12, ¶5.) On April 5, 20 12, Plaintiff signed a sexual harassm ent com plaint against Defendant Captain Elaris Robinson, a guard at CCYDC em ployed by the County of Cam den; the County received the com pleted Affirm ative Action Com plaint form on April 10 , 20 12. (Robinson Dep., 10 :25-11:4, 13:15-25.) Plaintiff has alleged in this case that over a num ber of years, Robinson m ade unwanted sexual advances toward Plaintiff asking for kisses, dates, and sexual relations/ favors. Plaintiff refused these, but did not voice or file any com plaints allegedly for fear of possible retaliation. (Hardy Dep., 15:10 19; Edwards Dep., 45:10 -17.) On April 11, 20 12 the County notified Hardy that Plaintiff filed a Com plaint. (Mem orandum from Cirii copied to Hardy dated April 11, 20 12.) This was the first that Hardy learned Plaintiff had an issue with Robinson. (Hardy Dep., 14:8-151, 63:9-64:11, 66:2-16; Wasilewski Aff., ¶12; Hardy Aff., ¶16.) Hardy im m ediately notified CCESC. (Hardy Dep., 15:8 -9.) The County’s Affirm ative Action Officer initially investigated the Com plaint. The Action Officer did not sustain the allegation. (Letter to Haddix from Affirm ative Action Officer dated April 16, 20 12.) On April 20 , 20 12, Plaintiff com plained to CCESC and the 3 County that Robinson confronted her in CCYDC’s parking lot about the sexual harassm ent com plaint she filed against him . Robinson’s supervisors were im m ediately called and directed to inform Robinson that he was to have no contact with Plaintiff. (Mem o to file dated April 20 , 20 12 and Plaintiff’s Incident Report dated April 24, 20 12.) The CCESC Superintendent also contacted the County to address Plaintiff’s com plaint. (Mem o to file dated May 1, 20 12; Wasilewski Aff., ¶15.) On April 24, 20 12, the County’s Hum an Resources Departm ent issued an investigation report regarding the sexual harassm ent com plaint. It also did not find that Plaintiff’s allegations rose to the level of sexual harassm ent. (Mem o dated April 24, 20 12.) Plaintiff filed a Com plaint with the EEOC on April 24, 20 12. Plaintiff’s April 5, 20 12 sexual harassm ent com plaint alleged that she received two text m essages from Robinson that she felt were inappropriate. The texts that cam e from “Eva” read “Happy Valentine’s Day!” on February 14, 20 12 and “Can you m eet for cocktails or a quick bite? I really need to talk with you” on March 22, 20 14. (Eisen Dep., 22:2-12; Haddix Dep., 74:14-75:10 .) The com plaint did not allege a request for a kiss or any other sexually inappropriate inform ation. (Haddix Dep., 8 1:23-8 2:6.) Plaintiff also did not provide any other instances of inappropriate com m ents or other inappropriate behavior when she was interviewed during the investigation. (Eisen Dep., 34:23, 62:1963:16, 64:2-16, 70 :15-71:5.) The investigator found the inform ation provided by Plaintiff was not a violation of the County policy; he “couldn’t prove that Mr. Robinson was involved, in any way, and there was very little to go on, so [he] found that it didn’t rise to the level of violating the policy.” (Eisen Dep., 16:4-17:3.) 4 Plaintiff’s Claim s Count One of the Com plaint alleges Plaintiff was subjected to an adverse em ploym ent action (unlawful discharge) based on race discrim ination and gender discrim ination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.A. §20 0 0 (e). Count Two of the Com plaint alleges retaliatory discharge after Plaintiff offered statem ents in con junction with investigations, and filed charges in her own right, involving sexual harassm ent and discrim in ation in the workplace, in violation of Title VII. Count Three of the Com plaint alleges Plaintiff was subjected to an adverse em ploym ent action (unlawful term ination) based on race discrim in ation and gender discrim ination in violation of the New J ersey Law Again st Discrim ination, N.J . Stat. Ann. §10 :5-1. Count Four of the Com plaint alleges sexual harassm ent and hostile environm ent workplace discrim ination in violation of the NJ LAD. Count Five of the Com plaint alleges retaliatory discharge in violation of the NJ LAD. Count Six alleges a claim for civil con spiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1985. Count Seven alleges individual liability against Defendant Cpt. Elaris Robinson pursuant to the NJ LAD for race/ gender harassm ent which created a hostile work environm ent, including respondeat superior. Sum m ary J udgm ent Standard Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) generally provides that the “court shall grant sum m ary judgm ent if the m ovant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any m aterial fact” such that the m ovant is “entitled to judgm ent as a m atter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Such a showing m ust be supported by “citing to particular parts of m aterials in the record, including depositions, docum ents, electronically stored inform ation, affidavits or declarations, stipulations . . . adm ission s, interrogatory answers, or other m aterials.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (c)(1)(A). A “genuine” dispute of 5 “m aterial” fact exists where a reasonable jury’s review of the evidence could result in “a verdict for the non-m oving party” or where such fact m ight otherwise affect the disposition of the litigation. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts, however, will fail to preclude the entry of sum m ary judgm ent. Id. In evaluating a m otion for sum m ary judgm ent, the court m ust view the evidence in the light m ost favorable to the non-m oving party, and m ust provide that party the benefit of all reasonable inferen ces. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (20 0 7); Halsey v. Pfeiffer, 750 F.3d 273, 287 (3d Cir. 20 14). Any such inferences “m ust flow directly from adm issible eviden ce[,]” because “‘an inferen ce based upon [ ] speculation or conjecture does not create a m aterial factual dispute sufficient to defeat sum m ary judgm ent.’” Halsey, 750 F.3d at 287 (quoting Robertson v. Allied Signal, Inc., 914 F.2d 360 , 382 n.12 (3d Cir. 1990 ) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255)). Accordingly, the m oving party initially has the burden of dem onstrating the absence of a genuine issue of m aterial fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the m oving party has m et this burden, the non-m oving party m ust 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). Again, to withstand a properly supported m otion for sum m ary judgm ent, the non-m oving party m ust identify specific facts and affirm ative evidence that contradict those offered by the m oving party. Andersen, 477 U.S. at 256-57. “A nonm oving party m ay not ‘rest upon m ere allegations, general denials or . . . vague statem ents . . . .’” Trap Rock Indus., Inc. v. Local 8 25, Int’l Union of Operating Eng’rs, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Quiroga v. Hasbro, Inc., 934 F.2d 497, 50 0 (3d Cir. 1991)). 6 Indeed, the plain language of Rule 56(c) m andates the entry of sum m ary judgm ent, after adequate tim e for discovery and upon m otion, against a party who fails to m ake a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an elem ent essential to that party’s case, an d on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. The m ovant can support the assertion that a fact cannot be genuinely disputed by showing that “an adverse party cannot produce adm issible eviden ce 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 m erits of a party’s m otion for sum m ary judgm ent, the court’s role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the m atter, but to determ ine whether there is a gen uine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). Credibility determ in ations are the province of the factfinder. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am ., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992). Discussion Analysis of claim s m ade pursuant to the NJ LAD generally follows the an alysis of Title VII claim s. Schurr v. Resorts Int’l Hotel, Inc., 196 F.3d 486, 498 (3d Cir. 1999). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids em ploym ent discrim ination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or nation al origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 20 0 0 e– 2(a); Burlington N. & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53 (20 0 6). In assessing claim s under Title VII and related retaliation claim s, courts apply the burden-shifting analysis set forth in McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green, 411 U.S. 792, 8 0 2– 0 3 (1973). Under that fram ework, a plaintiff m ust satisfy the initial burden of m aking a prim a facie case of discrim ination. 7 To establish a prim a facie case of discrim ination under Title VII, a plaintiff m ust show the following: (1) that she is a m em ber of a protected class; (2) that she was qualified for the position; (3) that she suffered an adverse em ploym ent action; and (4) that the adverse action occurred under circum stances that give rise to an inference of discrim ination. J ones v. Sch. Dist. of Philadelphia, 198 F.3d 40 3, 412 (3d Cir. 1999). If the em ployee m akes out a prim a facie case, the burden of production shifts to the em ployer to establish a legitim ate, nondiscrim in atory reason for its actions. Fuentes v. Borough of Watchung, 286 F. App’x 781, 78 4– 85 (3d Cir. 20 0 8). If the em ployer establishes a legitim ate, nondiscrim inatory reason for its actions, the burden of production shifts back to the em ployee to show that the em ployer’s proffered reason was a pretext for actual discrim ination. Id. The Third Circuit has held that a plaintiff m ay defeat a m otion for sum m ary judgm ent by pointing “to som e evidence, direct or circum stantial, from which a factfinder would reasonably either: (1) disbelieve the em ployer’s articulated legitim ate reasons; or (2) believe that an invidious discrim inatory reason was m ore likely than not a m otivating or determ inative cause of the em ployer's action.” Id. Here, after viewing the eviden ce in the light m ost favorable to Plaintiff, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to establish a prim a facie case of discrim ination. While Plaintiff is an African -Am erican wom an who was term inated from her job, she is unable to dem onstrate that she was qualified for the position. Plaintiff did not have, and failed to obtain, the proper State certification for the subject she was teaching. As such, sum m ary judgm ent is granted on Plaintiff’s claim s that she was unlawfully discharged based on race or gender. 8 Title VII also prohibits an em ployer from retaliating against an em ployee “because he has opposed any practice m ade an unlawful em ploym ent practice by [Title VII] . . . , or because he has m ade a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any m anner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under [Title VII.]” 42 U.S.C. § 20 0 0 e– 3(a). To establish a prim a facie case of retaliation under Title VII, a plaintiff m ust establish the following: “(1) she engaged in activity protected by Title VII; (2) the em ployer took an adverse em ploym ent action against her; an d (3) there was a causal connection between her participation in the protected activity and the adverse em ploym ent action.” Nelson v. Upsala Coll., 51 F.3d 38 3, 38 6 (3d Cir. 1995). In this case, there is no eviden ce in the record to support the claim that Plaintiff was term inated in retaliation for filing a com plaint regarding Robinson’s actions or otherwise opposing discrim in ation m ade illegal by Title VII. Plaintiff produces no eviden ce which could be construed as showing that the decision not to renew Plaintiff as a teacher was m otivated by any reason other than Plaintiff’s lack of proper certification. Further, CCESC term inated Plaintiff before she filed the com plaint against Robin son. Therefore, the Court will also enter sum m ary judgm ent in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s claim s of retaliatory discharge. Next, to establish a hostile work environm ent claim under the LAD, a plaintiff “m ust dem onstrate that the defendant’s conduct (1) would not have occurred but for the em ployee’s [gender]; and [the conduct] was (2) severe or pervasive enough to m ake a (3) reasonable [person of the sam e protected class] believe that (4) the conditions of em ploym ent are altered and the working environm ent is hostile or abusive.” Taylor v. Metzger, 70 6 A.2d 685, 688-89 (N.J . 1998) (quotations om itted). The New J ersey Suprem e Court requires a cum ulative analysis of the incidents com prising an alleged 9 hostile work environm ent. See Lehm ann v. Toys ‘R’ Us, Inc., 626 A.2d 445, 455 (N.J . 1993). “[A]n em ployer will be held vicariously liable in situations where it delegates authority to control a work environm ent to a supervisor, and the supervisor abuses that authority, or where sexual harassm ent is foreseeable and the em ployer is n egligent in having in place or enforcing anti-harassm ent policies, or where the em ployer intended for or gave apparent authorization to the harassing conduct.” Sm ith v. Exxon-Mobil Corp., 374 F. Supp. 2d 40 6, 421 (D.N.J . 20 0 5) Here, CCESC did not know about the alleged harassm ent. In fact, on October 11, 20 11, in connection with the County’s investigation into a co-worker’s sexual harassm ent com plaint against Robinson, Plaintiff was specifically asked whether she had experienced any offensive conduct by Robinson. Her interview with the investigators is sum m arized as follows. Personally, [Plaintiff] does not have a problem with Cpt. Robinson, but professionally she describes him as a “bully,” acts as the “boss of the building” and “whatever he says goes.” She stated that he is a dom inant m an, very controlling, dem eaning and intim idating to the teachers. Ms. Haddix stated that when Cpt. Robinson says som ething inappropriate, she will address him and he is inappropriate to m any people. Furtherm ore, he uses foul language in front of guests and told a guest speaker that her clothes were too tight/ dress is too short. Ms. Haddix would not disclose anything specific and finally adm itted to Cpt. Robin son asking for a kiss after repetitive questioning. She did not kiss Cpt. Robinson and could not rem em ber when the request occurred. (March 2, 20 12 Mem orandum from Eisen & Morm an to Cirii.) Considering the totality of the circum stances, Plaintiff’s statem ent that she did not have a problem with Robinson when questioned specifically about sexual harassm ent is telling in regard to how severe or pervasive the conduct was. Further, once Plaintiff did com plain about Robinson’s conduct, the County and CCESC responded im m ediately in accordance with 10 their respective anti-harassm ent policies. Sum m ary judgm ent will be granted on the sexual harassm ent and hostile environm ent workplace discrim ination claim . Regarding the in dividual liability claim against Robinson, Plaintiff acknowledges that individual em ployees cannot be held liable for em ploym ent discrim ination under Title VII. See Sheridan v. E.I. Dupont de Nem ours & Co., 10 0 F.3d 10 61, 10 78 (3d Cir. 1996). In addition, because Plaintiff’s underlying causes of action fail, there can be no claim for aiding and abetting in violation of the NJ LAD. Ivan v. County of Middlesex, 595 F. Supp. 2d 425, 463 (D.N.J . 20 0 9) (“[F]or a defendant to be individually liable for aiding and abetting, the em ployer m ust also be liable under the LAD. It is not the act of discrim ination but rather the failure in the em ployer’s response that an aider an d abettor is charged with assisting.”). Finally, the Court finds that Plaintiff has presented no evidence to show civil conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. §1985. Conclusion Accordingly, Defendants’ m otions for sum m ary judgm ent will be granted. An appropriate Order will issue. Dated: J une 16, 20 15 / s/ J oseph H. Rodriguez J OSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ U.S.D.J . 11