Hostile Work Environments and Workplace Harassment | Mason v. Saker ShopRites, Inc.

Mason v. Saker ShopRites, Inc.:

Submitted by New Jersey Civil Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark

Plaintiff alleged her coworkers at ShopRite made sexually inappropriate comments and jokes during work, and that she saw another worker inappropriately touch her supervisor. She also contended that she reported her coworkers’ theft of company property to a supervisor, and later later resigned from her job. Plaintiff moved to add a Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) retaliation claim a year after the joinder of issue. Plaintiff appealed the summary judgment dismissal of her hostile work environment, retaliation and constructive discharge action and the denial of her motion to amend her complaint to add a third count for retaliation under a Conscientious Employee Protection Act claim.

In this appeal, plaintiff argues the motion judge: (1) erred in denying her motion to amend her complaint to include a CEPA cause of action, and (2) misapplied the standard codified in Rule 4:46-2(c) when he granted defendants’ motion and dismissed plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice. The appellate court rejected her arguments and affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

The appellate court explained that a trial court’s ruling under Rule 4:9-1must satisfy a two-step process defined in Notte v. Merchs. Mut. Ins. Co., 185 N.J. 490. First, the trial court must determine “whether the non-moving party will be prejudiced” by the amended complaint. When plaintiff’s proposed amendment to the original complaint is based on the same underlying facts set forth in the original pleading, a defendant is not prejudiced. Id. However, a party can be prejudiced when the amended complaint results in “undue delay.” Tomaszewski v. McKeon Ford, 240 N.J. Super. 404, 411 (App. Div. 1990). Second, the court is required to deny plaintiff’s motion to amend a complaint if the proposed amendment would be futile. A plaintiff presents a prima facie CEPA claim when the following four elements are met: “(1) he or she reasonably believed that his or her employer’s conduct was violating either a law, rule, or regulation promulgated pursuant to law, or a clear mandate of public policy; (2) he or she performed a ‘whistle-blowing’ activity described in N.J.S.A. 34:19-3c; (3) an adverse employment action was taken against him or her; and (4) a causal connection exists between the whistle-blowing activity and the adverse employment action.” Dzwonar v. McDevitt, 177 N.J. 451, 462 (2003).

The appellate court found that the trial judge failed to apply the two-step process in Notte, in denying plaintiff’s motion to amend. However the appellate court found that the amendment would have been prejudicial to defendants and her CEPA cause of action was futile since there were no factual allegations to support her claim of retaliatory action. The appellate court agreed that the trial judge properly dismissed plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim as a matter of law. They opined that the plaintiff did not show the complained of conduct constituted cognizable claims of gender bias or sexual harassment. The appellate court stated the although the behavior may have been unprofessional and inappropriate, it did not rise to discriminatory acts actionable under the LAD, and did not rise to the level of “severe and pervasive” but was offhanded and isolated. The plaintiff only identified three comments directed at her during her four and a half months employment.

At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for appeals in Superior Court for issues like the present case pertaining to hostile work environments and workplace harassment. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation so that they receive the most favorable outcome as a result.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the plaintiff or defendant in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties.

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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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