Mark Law Firm Blog

Court outlines what constitutes a hostile work environment at job

Posted by Jamison Mark on May 8, 2014 12:12:00 PM
New Jersey Attorneys

It was also during this time that Mr. Johnson was involved in an incident with Officer MacFarland. He claims that MacFarland threw a nightstick at the windshield of a car which was driven by a Philadelphia police officer's son. When Mr. Johnson made his report regarding the events of the evening, he was asked if he wanted to go forward with his statements against MacFarland as it would be career suicide. Mr. Johnson was eventually called to testify against MacFarland, which he did. Mr. Johnson stated that this turned out to be career suicide after all.

Mr. Johnson next began working in Hammonton. When he initially came to Hammonton, Lieutenant Herron remarked that Johnson was not a "team player." He felt that Herron made this statement in direct correlation to his testimony against MacFarland and as a result, he felt ostracized. Still, Mr. Johnson was selected for a narcotics assignment but as he failed to pay for damage done to his neighbor's property and dog, he was unable to get the assignment. Yet, Mr. Johnson insists that the continued lack of promotions was in direct retaliation for his previous experience with MacFarland.

Following Hammonton, Mr. Johnson was stationed in Abescon where he intervened when he felt another trooper was using "excessive force" against a suspect. Following this incident, Mr. Johnson entered a bar where the other troopers were having a drink. When he walked in, the sergeant made a racial comment to Mr. Johnson. Aside from this one incident, there were no other subsequent remarks yet Mr. Johnson knew he was not well liked. In 1988, while at Absecon, Mr. Johnson was involved in an incident which landed him with a four month suspension without pay. He was charged with simple assault during an altercation involving his nephew and a woman.

From 1989 through 1991, Mr. Johnson was assigned to the Atlantic City Expressway station. Ensuing this assignment, Mr. Johnson was subjected to racist comments and also rode with another trooper who primarily pulled over minorities. Mr. Johnson was granted his request to ride with another trooper. Mr. Johnson also gave a ticket to the family member of a trooper in Atlantic City Expressway. Following these and several other incidents, Mr. Johnson was again looked over for promotions and felt the general dislike of other officers.

During the years 1992 through 1994, Mr. Johnson was stationed at Bridgeton. While Mr. Johnson does not specify racism at this location, he did feel the sting of retaliation as he was directly advised that the lieutenant did not want him to be an assistant station squad leader. While at Bridgeton, he went through three disciplinary investigations and an eight day suspension. When Mr. Johnson had an altercation with another officer, he was transferred to Port Norris.

From 1994 through 1995, Mr. Johnson was assigned to Port Norris. He was called "coconut," by the station commander who Mr. Johnson later befriended. Again, Mr. Johnson applied for promotions and this time was given the role of communications supervisor.

During the years 1995 through 1997, Mr. Johnson returned to Hammonton. While at Hammonton, Mr. Johnson had a verbal altercation with a lieutenant and was cursed at and called "boy." When the sergeant discovered that this had taken place, he made the lieutenant apologize to Mr. Johnson. While nothing else noteworthy took place during his second assignment at Hammonton, Mr. Johnson had a personal situation with DYFS which lead to him being suspended and again being passed by for promotion.

From 1997 through 2002, Mr. Johnson worked at Buena Vista as a general road trooper. MacFarland was the station manager at Buena Vista and told Mr. Johnson that had he kept his mouth shut, a lot of things would have never happened. Mr. Johnson requested vacation and was turned down. He felt that this proved that he and MacFarland were already having difficulties. During this time, Mr. Johnson took a long medical leave (from December 1998 through March 2002) and was reprimanded for abusing sick time.

Mr. Johnson was next assigned to Camden initially as a traffic coordinator however, he also served in other capacities. He again took tests and applied for promotions but did not pass those tests and was not promoted. While he never heard the sergeant make racial comments, it was Mr. Johnson's understanding that he was a racist. Yet, when he was assigned to a Community Outreach position prior to promotion results being released, he felt this assignment was retaliatory.

In 2007, Mr. Johnson took a sick leave for stress-related illnesses. He received full benefits during this time and up until his retirement in June 2007.

Mr. Johnson filed a complaint against the New Jersey State Police in 2005, citing violation of the Law Against Discrimination. This complaint was preceded by several filings with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants had created a hostile work environment and discriminated against him. The matter was appealed from the Law Division following the successful summary judgment motion of Defendants.

Upon review of the Appellate Division, it was determined that the Law Division had reached the appropriate conclusion. To begin, Mr. Johnson failed to make a prima facie case. Specifically, the rulings in Coyne v. N.J. Dep't. of Transp., 182 N.J. 481 (2005) and Burnett v. Gloucester County. Bd. of Chosen Freeholders, 409 N.J. Super. 219, (App. Div. 2009), indicated that a court should grant summary judgment if the evidence showed that there was no "genuine issue as to any material fact."

In addition, the Appellate Division considered that the statute of limitations governing claims under the Law Against Discrimination. Plaintiff had provided history back to 1967 however, Road v. Road, 200 N.J. 555 (2010), prevented the Court from awarding damages for many of the instances.

Finally, in reviewing Plaintiff's claim of disparate treatment, the Court did not feel that Mr. Johnson had submitted suitable evidence to sustain the burden of proof. The Court applied the McDonnell Douglas Test in order to show that Plaintiff failed to prove all four requirements with regard to each promotion not assigned.

It is clear that Mr. Johnson was subjected to racist remarks during his career and it is also clear that he did not get along with each person he was assigned to work with. Nevertheless, neither of these instances carried enough weight in order to prove that he was discriminated against nor the victim of retaliation.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination protects employees from being victims of discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environments however, it can be difficult to determine what situations fall under those protections.

If you feel that you have been subjected to any of these events, please contact Mark Law Firm, LLC, at (908) 626-1001 or (201) 787-9406, or you can tell us your story by clicking the "contact us" page. We represent clients throughout Essex County, New Jersey including Newark, Harrison and Belleville.

Topics: Discrimination & Harassment