Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Supreme Court of New Jersey
Keim v. Above All Termite & Pest Control
Above All Termite & Pest Control ("Above All") employed Henry Keim as a salaried pest-control technician and provided him with an employer authorized vehicle for work use. Above All’s policy limited the quantity of supplies technicians could keep in their authorized vehicles overnight. When technicians needed to replenish supplies, Above All authorized them to drive their vehicles to Above All’s shop instead of driving directly to a worksite, to retrieve whatever they required, and then to go from the shop to the scheduled sites. On the morning of the accident, Keim clocked in, received his schedule, and concluded that his vehicle lacked sufficient supplies. On his way to the shop for supplies, Keim sustained injuries in a car accident. The Judge of Compensation dismissed Keim’s claim petition with prejudice, concluding that Keim was merely commuting to work when he sustained injuries. The Appellate Division applied the “authorized vehicle rule” and reversed the dismissal order. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court, finding Keim was “in the course of employment” under the “authorized vehicle rule” at the time of the accident because Above All authorized a vehicle for him to operate and his operation of that identified vehicle was for business expressly authorized by Above All. View "Keim v. Above All Termite & Pest Control" on Justia Law
Crisitello v. St. Theresa School
The Church of St. Theresa (St. Theresa’s) owned and operated the St. Theresa School. St. Theresa’s terminated art teacher and toddler room caregiver Victoria Crisitello for violating the terms of her employment agreement. That agreement required employees to abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church and forbade employees from engaging in premarital sex; Crisitello, who was unmarried, had become pregnant. In response to her firing, Crisitello filed a complaint against St. Theresa’s alleging employment discrimination in violation of the Law Against Discrimination (LAD), based on pregnancy and marital status. St. Theresa’s countered that its decision to terminate Crisitello was protected by both the First Amendment and the LAD. The New Jersey Supreme Court held: (1) the “religious tenets” exception of N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(a) was an affirmative defense available to a religious entity when confronted with a claim of employment discrimination; and (2) the uncontroverted fact was that St. Theresa’s followed the religious tenets of the Catholic Church in terminating Crisitello. The Court thus concluded St. Theresa’s was entitled to summary judgment and that the trial court correctly dismissed the complaint with prejudice. View "Crisitello v. St. Theresa School" on Justia Law
Pantano v. New York Shipping Association
In November 2013, plaintiff Philip Pantano, a mechanic employed by Container Services of New Jersey (CSNJ), was injured at work while attempting to move a heavy piece of industrial equipment. Lawrence Giamella, who was also working on the site that day, tried to help plaintiff move the equipment with a forklift; plaintiff’s foot was crushed in the process. Plaintiff collected workers’ compensation benefits from his employer, CSNJ. He and his wife also brought a personal injury action against numerous defendants, including Marine Transport, Inc. (MT). MT and CSNJ were related companies owned by the same person. The core of the parties’ dispute concerned which entity or entities employed Giamella at the time of the accident: MT, CSNJ, or both. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of CSNJ because of the statutory bar established by N.J.S.A. 34:15-8. MT also moved for summary judgment, arguing that it was not Giamella’s employer and was therefore not vicariously liable for his negligence. Although Giamella was on MT’s payroll, MT raised the affirmative defense that he was a “borrowed servant” or “special employee” working for CSNJ at the time of the accident, applying the multi-factor test set forth in Galvao v. G.R. Robert Construction Co., 179 N.J. 462 (2004). The pretrial judge denied MT’s motion. At the close of plaintiff’s case, MT moved for judgment pursuant to Rule 4:40-1, founded on the same borrowed-employee theory it had raised earlier in its summary judgment motion. The trial judge did not rule on the motion, reserving judgment for after the jury verdict. The jury awarded plaintiff damages for pain and suffering, lost wages, and loss of consortium. Pursuant to an agreement reached by counsel, the jury was asked to presume that MT was vicariously liable and was not asked to resolve the borrowed-employee question. Instead, counsel assented to have the court resolve the borrowed-employee argument through the mechanism of MT’s yet-to-be-decided Rule 4:40-1 motion. The trial judge vacated the verdict and awarded judgment to MT, concluding that Giamella was a borrowed employee working for CSNJ when the accident occurred. The Appellate Division reversed, vacated the directed verdict, and reinstated the jury verdict in plaintiff’s favor. Finding no reversible error in the appellate court's judgment, the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed. View "Pantano v. New York Shipping Association" on Justia Law
Hansen v. Rite Aid Corp.
After his employment was terminated in May 2008, plaintiff Harold Hansen brought claims against Rite Aid and other defendants alleging age discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, and gender discrimination in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), as well as several common law claims. After three trials, a jury returned a verdict in plaintiff’s favor on his LAD sexual orientation discrimination claim and awarded him a total of $420,500 in compensatory and punitive damages. Plaintiff moved for an award of counsel fees and costs. In plaintiff’s initial submission, he asked the trial court to determine that a reasonable hourly rate for his lead counsel and the attorney who assisted in the first of the three trials was $725, and that a reasonable number of hours spent on this matter was 3,252. He requested that the trial court determine the lodestar to be $2,355,892.50, and that the court apply a one hundred percent enhancement to the lodestar. Plaintiff also sought an award of costs. In total, plaintiff requested an award of $5,035,773.50. The trial court issued a seventy-three-page decision with a fifty-four-page spreadsheet reflecting its analysis of the time entries and disbursements set forth in plaintiff’s invoice. The court ruled that a reasonable hourly rate for plaintiff’s lead counsel in this case was $375 per hour and a reasonable hourly rate for the assistant attorney was $325 per hour. The court identified several categories of legal work improperly included in plaintiff’s fee application, including work on unrelated matters. The trial court also excluded all time entries reflecting plaintiff’s counsel’s representation of plaintiff in the Appellate Division and to the Supreme Court. Noting that plaintiff was successful on only one claim and that plaintiff’s lead counsel performed tasks that should have been assigned to a junior attorney or a paralegal, the trial court reduced the lodestar by twenty percent. Ultimately, the trial court awarded $741,387.97 in fees and costs. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the Appellate Division that the trial court properly exercised its discretion when it set the reasonable hourly rate for plaintiff’s counsel’s work, assessed the number of hours reasonably expended by plaintiff’s counsel in pretrial proceedings and at trial, reduced the lodestar because of plaintiff’s limited success and other factors, and determined plaintiff’s application for an award of costs. View "Hansen v. Rite Aid Corp." on Justia Law
Holm v. Purdy
This action was brought by plaintiff Nancy Holm, administratrix of the estate of her husband, Christopher Friedauer, who died in 2015 after falling at his workplace, Holmdel Nurseries, LLC. As a longtime employee of the family-owned business, Christopher had been covered by workers’ compensation insurance, but he was no longer covered after he became a member of the LLC in 2012. Plaintiff claimed that defendant Daniel Purdy, who served as the insurance broker for Holmdel Nurseries from 2002 to 2015, failed to provide to the LLC the notice mandated by N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, and that Christopher was unaware that he no longer had workers’ compensation coverage in his new role as an LLC member. She alleged that as a result of defendant’s negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, Friedauer’s dependents were deprived of a workers’ compensation death benefit to which they would have been entitled under N.J.S.A. 34:15-13 had he been covered by workers’ compensation insurance at the time of his death. Defendant asserted that Friedauer’s father, Robert Friedauer, the LLC’s managing member for insurance issues, instructed defendant in 2002 that Holmdel Nurseries did not want to purchase workers’ compensation coverage for its LLC members because of the cost of that coverage. At the close of a jury trial, the trial court granted defendant’s motion for an involuntary dismissal pursuant to Rule 4:37-2(b) and his motion for judgment at trial pursuant to Rule 4:40-1. Informed by the New Jersey Legislature’s expression of public policy in N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, the New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the Appellate Division that defendant had a duty to advise the LLC members, at the time of the workers’ compensation policy’s purchase or renewal, that an LLC member actively performing services on the LLC’s behalf was eligible for workers’ compensation coverage, but that the LLC must elect to purchase such coverage in order to obtain it. Consistent with N.J.S.A. 34:15-36, however, the Supreme Court held that defendant could not be held liable for breach of that duty unless the damages alleged were caused by defendant’s willful, wanton or grossly negligent act of commission or omission. The Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s assessment of the evidence presented by plaintiff on the question of proximate cause. Accordingly, the Court concurred that the trial court erred when it granted defendant’s motion to dismiss and his motion for judgment at trial, and affirmed as modified the Appellate Division’s judgment. The case was thus remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Holm v. Purdy" on Justia Law
East Bay Drywall, LLC v. Department of Labor and Workforce Development
East Bay Drywall, LLC was a drywall installation business that hired on a per-job basis. Once a builder accepts East Bay’s bid for a particular project, East Bay contacts workers -- whom it alleged to be subcontractors -- to see who is available. Workers are free to accept or decline East Bay’s offer of employment, and some workers have left mid-installation if they found a better job. In this appeal, the issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court was whether those workers were properly classified as employees or independent contractors under the Unemployment Compensation Law, which set forth a test -- commonly referred to as the “ABC test” -- to determine whether an individual serves as an employee. On June 30, 2013, East Bay, a business registered as an employer up to that point, ceased reporting wages to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Consequently, an auditor for the Department conducted a status audit that reviewed the workers East Bay hired between 2013 and 2016 to determine whether they were independent contractors, as defined by the ABC test. The auditor ultimately found that approximately half of the alleged subcontractors working for East Bay between 2013 and 2016 -- four individuals and twelve business entities -- should have been classified as employees. The Department informed East Bay that it owed $42,120.79 in unpaid unemployment and temporary disability contributions. The Supreme Court was satisfied that all sixteen workers in question were properly classified as employees, but it remanded the case back to the Department for calculation of the appropriate back-owed contributions. View "East Bay Drywall, LLC v. Department of Labor and Workforce Development " on Justia Law
Haviland v. Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County, Inc.
In this appeal, the issue presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court in this case was whether a plaintiff had to submit an affidavit of merit (AOM) in support of a vicarious liability claim against a licensed health care facility based on the alleged negligent conduct of an employee who was not a “licensed person” under the AOM statute. Plaintiff Troy Haviland brought a claim against defendant Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County, Inc., alleging, as relevant here, that an unnamed radiology technician employed by defendant negligently performed his radiological imaging examination, causing serious injuries. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint for failure to serve an AOM, which was granted. The Appellate Division reversed, determining that an AOM was not required when a plaintiff’s claim against a licensed person was limited solely to vicarious liability, based upon the alleged negligence of an employee who was not a licensed person under the AOM statute. To this the Supreme Court concurred: the AOM statute did not require submission of an AOM to support a vicarious liability claim against a licensed health care facility based only on the conduct of its non-licensed employee. View "Haviland v. Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County, Inc." on Justia Law
Lapsley v. Township of Sparta
Defendants Township of Sparta, Paul Austin, and Sparta Department of Public Works (collectively, defendants) challenged a denial of workers’ compensation benefits to plaintiff Diane Lapsley under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Lapsley was employed by the Township as a librarian for the Sparta Public Library. On February 3, 2014, Lapsley’s husband arrived at the library to drive Lapsley home. As they walked from the library to the car through the parking lot, they were suddenly struck by a snowplow owned by the Township and operated by Paul Austin, a Township employee. As a result, Lapsley suffered injuries to her leg requiring multiple surgeries and leaving her permanently disfigured. Lapsley filed a complaint against defendants in court, and later, a claim for workers’ compensation benefits against the Township in the Law Division of Workers’ Compensation. The Division found that Lapsley’s injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment and were therefore compensable under the Workers’ Compensation Act. Lapsley appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed, finding Lapsley’s injuries were not compensable under the Act. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded Lapsley’s injuries arose out of and in the course of her employment because the parking lot where she was injured was owned and maintained by the Township, adjacent to her place of work, and used by Township employees to park. Lapsley was therefore entitled to benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act. View "Lapsley v. Township of Sparta" on Justia Law
Pritchett v. New Jersey
Plaintiff Shelly Pritchett worked for the Juvenile Justice Center (JJC), which ran the state’s juvenile correctional facilities. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. When her second request for unpaid leave was denied, her supervisor refused to explain the denial or put the denial in writing. On November 1, 2011, Pritchett learned that she would be subject to disciplinary proceedings -- which would result in her termination without a pension -- if she did not resign by the end of the week. Pritchett applied for retirement disability benefits on November 4. Weeks later, her union representative informed the JJC that Pritchett believed she was forced into retirement against her will. The JJC’s Equal Opportunity Office expressed its opinion that the JJC “failed to engage in the interactive process,” which “resulted in a violation of the State Anti-Discrimination Policy,” but opined that Pritchett’s “request for reinstatement [was] mooted by [her] approval for disability retirement.” Pritchett filed a complaint alleging the State violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). A jury awarded Pritchett compensatory damages in excess of $1.8 million and punitive damages of $10 million. The State challenged the punitive damages award. The trial court determined that the punitive damages amount was high but that no miscarriage of justice occurred. The Appellate Division affirmed in large part, but remanded for reconsideration of the punitive damages award, calling upon the trial court to consider the factors discussed in Baker v. National State Bank, 161 N.J. 220 (1999), and BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996). The State petitioned for certiorari review, arguing that the Appellate Division’s remand instructions were flawed in part because they failed to include direction to the trial court to apply heightened scrutiny when reviewing awards of LAD punitive damages against public entities. The New Jersey Supreme Court concurred with the state, modifying the Appellate Division's order to include instruction that the trial court review the punitive damages award with heightened scrutiny. View "Pritchett v. New Jersey" on Justia Law
Rios v. Meda Pharmaceutical, Inc.
Plaintiff Armando Rios, Jr., a Hispanic male, was hired by defendant Meda Pharmaceutical, Inc. (Meda) in May 2015. Defendant Tina Cheng-Avery was Rios’s direct supervisor. Rios claimed Cheng-Avery twice directed a racially-derogatory term toward him at their place of work. Rios says he reported her comments to Meda’s Director of Human Resources after each incident. Cheng-Avery placed Rios on probation in February 2016 for poor performance. Meda fired Rios in June 2016. Rios filed a complaint alleging in part that defendants violated the Law Against Discrimination (LAD) by creating a hostile work environment. The trial court granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that no rational factfinder could conclude Cheng-Avery’s alleged comments were sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment. The Appellate Division affirmed. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the remarks from the perspective of a reasonable Hispanic employee in Rios’s position, a rational jury could conclude the demeaning and contemptuous slurs, allegedly uttered by a direct supervisor, were sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile work environment in violation of the LAD. The Appellate Division was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Rios v. Meda Pharmaceutical, Inc." on Justia Law