Alan Schorr’s Employment Case of The Week ending May 3, 2013

Almeida v. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, ESX-L-5746-09, Essex County, Trial verdict May 1, 2013.

Munoz v. State of New Jersey, Dkt # CAM-L-3587-11, Camden County, Trial verdict May 1, 2013.

Almeida Complaint

Munoz Complaint and verdict sheet

It was a May Day to remember for employment plaintiffs in New Jersey as two big trial verdicts against the State of New Jersey were entered in Essex and Camden Counties. In Essex County, radiology technician Fernando Almeida, Jr. received a verdict of $690,000 from UMDNJ. On the same day, Camden firefighters Samuel Munoz and Andres Nieves won a verdict of $596,000 from the State of New Jersey and City of Camden. Both verdicts do not include pre-judgment interest or attorneys’ fees.

In the Almeida case, the plaintiff was employed as a radiology technician at UMDNJ in the summer of 2008. Mr. Almeida contended that on the overnight shift of August 30, 2008 an unidentified individual asked him to perform an x-ray on a patient. Mr. Almeida further alleged that this individual did not have a written requisition form for the x-ray and had not followed hospital procedures about documenting x-ray requests. Plaintiff also alleged that New Jersey regulations governing x-ray technicians make it clear that x-rays must be done under the direction of a licensed physician. Mr. Almeida alleged that because the x-ray had not been properly authorized that he refused to do it. As a result of his failure to conduct the x-ray, he brought suit under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act alleging that he was terminated from his position at UMDNJ in retaliation for his complaints.

The jury awarded Mr. Almeida $175,000 for lost wages, $250,000 for emotional distress. and $265,000 in punitive damages.

In the Munoz case, the Plaintiffs were Hispanic firefighters who alleged that they suffered a hostile working environment based upon their race (Hispanic) and that they were denied promotions and suffered further retaliation as a result of their complaints about the way they were treated. In an interesting and unsuccessful trial strategy, the Defendants decided not to take any depositions and apparently decided to simply wing it at trial. The strategy backfired when the Plaintiffs were awarded a successful verdict.

The jury awarded Mr. Nieves $60,000 for past wage loss, $320,000 for future pension loss, and $10,000 for emotional distress for the hostile working environment. Mr. Munoz was awarded $62,000 for past wage loss, $94,000 for “other compensatory losses due solely for the retaliation claim,” and $50,000 for the hostile working environment claim.

It was quite a convergence of coincidences with both verdicts arriving in May Day, both verdicts being assessed against the State, and both verdicts being in the same range.

The State of New Jersey continues to maintain a “no settlement” policy in these employment cases. Generally, the State will not discuss settlement until after summary judgment, and by that time, the plaintiff has often expended so much time and expense that it is difficult to settle the case. As a result, we keep seeing large verdicts and settlements against the State. Perhaps this twin May Day defeat will prompt the State to revisit its no settlement policy. Perhaps the State will revisit its Human Resource policies so that it will stop suffering verdicts on the basis that it is discriminating and retaliating against its employees. Don’t hold your breath. The current leadership of the State is not likely to reflect upon their own failings and are more likely to blame these losses on a faulty judicial system. Strange, considering that it is the Governor that appoints Judges and the Legislature that confirms.

There is little doubt that there will post-trial motions and we will follow them and report in this column.

Almeida v. UMDNJ

Plaintiff’s counsel: Gregory B. Noble, O’Connor, Parsons Lane & Noble, LLC

Defendant’s counsel: Robert Preuss, D.A.G.

Trial Court Judge – Randal Chiocca, J.S.C.

Munoz v. State of New Jersey

Plaintiff’s counsel: Gregg L. Zeff, Zeff Law Firm, LLC

Defendant’s counsel: Jay Blumberg, Esq., Blumberg and Lindner LLC

Trial Court Judge: Stephen M. Holden, J.S.C.