8 A.3d 198 (N.J. 2010), Alexander v. Seton Hall University

Citation:8 A.3d 198, 204 N.J. 219
Opinion Judge:LaVECCHIA, Justice
Party Name:Paula ALEXANDER, Joan Coll, and Cheryl Thompson-Sard, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. SETON HALL UNIVERSITY, John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark, President of Board of Regents, and Chair of Board of Trustees, and individually, Robert Sheeran, President and individually, Paula Buley, Executive Vice President and individually, Karen E. Boroff, Dean of Stil
Attorney:Patricia F. Breuninger, Scotch Plains, argued the cause for appellants (Breuninger & Fellman, attorneys; Ms. Breuninger and Kathleen P. Ramalho, on the briefs). Rosemary S. Gousman argued the cause for respondents (Fisher & Phillips, attorneys; Ms. Gousman and David J. Treibman, Murray Hill, on t...
Judge Panel:Justice RIVERA-SOTO, concurring in part and dissenting in part. For reversal and remandment -Chief Justice RABNER, LONG, LaVECCHIA, ALBIN and HOENS-5. For concurrence in part; dissent in part -Justice RIVERA-SOTO-1. Not Participating -Justice STERN.
Case Date:November 23, 2010
Court:Supreme Court of New Jersey
 
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8 A.3d 198 (N.J. 2010)

204 N.J. 219

Paula ALEXANDER, Joan Coll, and Cheryl Thompson-Sard, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

SETON HALL UNIVERSITY, John J. Myers, Archbishop of Newark, President of Board of Regents, and Chair of Board of Trustees, and individually, Robert Sheeran, President and individually, Paula Buley, Executive Vice President and individually, Karen E. Boroff, Dean of Stillman School of Business, and Joseph Depierro, Dean of College of Education and Human Services, Defendants-Respondents.

Supreme Court of New Jersey.

November 23, 2010

Argued Sept. 13, 2010.

Page 199

Patricia F. Breuninger, Scotch Plains, argued the cause for appellants (Breuninger & Fellman, attorneys; Ms. Breuninger and Kathleen P. Ramalho, on the briefs).

Rosemary S. Gousman argued the cause for respondents (Fisher & Phillips, attorneys; Ms. Gousman and David J. Treibman, Murray Hill, on the briefs).

Richard M. Schall submitted a brief on behalf of amicus curiae National Employment Lawyers Association of New Jersey (Schall & Barasch, attorneys; Mr. Schall and Patricia A. Barasch, Moorestown, of counsel and on the brief).

OPINION

LaVECCHIA, Justice

[204 N.J. 222] In this appeal, we review the timeliness of a wage discrimination complaint, brought under New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49, which the courts below dismissed based on a statute of limitations application that incorporated the reasoning of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 550 U.S. 618, 127 S.Ct. 2162, 167 L.Ed.2d 982 (2007) (establishing framework for analyzing accrual and timeliness in Title VII wage discrimination claims).

Plaintiffs, three female tenured professors at Seton Hall University, filed this 2007 action claiming that they were paid unequal wages in comparison to younger and/or male employees. Their complaint sought damages back to their respective dates of initial hire. The University moved to dismiss based on timeliness grounds. The motion court declared that its analysis would be controlled by the Ledbetter decision, and held that any and all disparate wages paid to plaintiffs, including those paid within the two-year period immediately prior to the complaint's filing, were simply the result of allegedly intentional discriminatory pay decisions that occurred outside of the limitations period. The trial court's final order of dismissal was affirmed on appeal. Alexander v. Seton Hall Univ., 410 N.J.Super. 574, 586-87, 983 A.2d 1128 (App.Div.2009).

We granted plaintiffs' petition for certification, 201 N.J. 498, 992 A.2d 793 (2010), recognizing that this appeal would afford us the opportunity to address whether New Jersey's LAD jurisprudence would be enhanced by importation of the Supreme Court's Ledbetter analysis. We now conclude that there is no necessary or beneficial purpose to be drawn from adoption of the Ledbetter approach.

Our holding today reaffirms that in New Jersey the payment of unequal wages on the discriminatory basis of age or sex is proscribed by the LAD, and each payment of such discriminatory wages constitutes an actionable wrong that is remediable under the LAD. The two-year statute of limitations applies to such [204 N.J. 223] violations by merely cutting off the untimely portion of such claims. Thus, the statute of limitations' operation results in limiting the damages recoverable for past discriminatory compensation. Case law in this state has long approached issues concerning the timeliness of LAD actions in wage claims in such a manner, and no persuasive reason has been advanced to supplant that established state law. We hold that plaintiffs' complaint was timely in respect of the allegedly discriminatory wages they received during the two years immediately prior to the filing of their complaint. We

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therefore reverse and remand for reinstatement of plaintiffs' timely claims of wage discrimination.

I.

On July 27, 2007, Paula Alexander, Joan Coll, and Cheryl Thompson-Sard, all veteran professors, filed a complaint against their employer, Seton Hall University, and certain school officials (defendants are collectively referred to as " the University" ). Plaintiffs alleged LAD violations on the basis of age and gender, specifically, discriminatory discrepancies between their salaries and those earned by younger employees and male employees. As this case was decided below on the basis of a motion to dismiss filed by defendants, we recite the facts in a light most favorable to plaintiffs. See Fazilat v. Feldstein, 180 N.J. 74, 78, 848 A.2d 761 (2004).

The catalyst for plaintiffs' pursuit of this claim was a 2004-2005 annual report (" Report" ), compiled by the University, which detailed the salaries of its full-time faculty members by " College," " Gender," " Rank," and " Salary." Although the Report was not generally available to the faculty, plaintiffs obtained a copy in August of 2005. The Report revealed that higher salaries were paid to newer, younger faculty members as compared to those paid to longer-term, older faculty members. A gender-based pattern of disparate compensation was also apparent. The plaintiffs, each over sixty years in age and boasting at least nineteen [204 N.J. 224] years of service to the University, claim that the discrimination permeates several University departments.

Paula Alexander is an Associate Professor in the Stillman School of Business (" Business School" ), Management Department. She was hired in 1976, and received tenure in 1981 when she was promoted to Associate Professor. In 2004-2005, Alexander earned $79,000 after twenty-four years of service at the Associate Professorship level. The Report revealed that two female Associate Professors, considerably younger and newer to the University than Alexander, were each earning approximately $50,000 a year more than she was. The following year, the University hired a young male Assistant Professor for the Business School at a salary of $105,000 per annum, as compared to Alexander's $87,000 for that year.

Joan Coll is a Full Professor in the Business School, Management Department. She was hired in 1981, and since 1994 has held the position of Full Professor, the University's highest rank. The 2004-2005 Report revealed that Coll was earning approximately $20,000 a year less than the male Full Professors in the Business School. Upon reviewing the Report, both Alexander and Coll requested an internal adjustment to bring their salaries in line with those of comparable younger professors and male professors. Those requests were denied.

Cheryl Thompson-Sard is an Associate Professor in the College of Education and Human Services, Department of Professional Psychology and Family Therapy. She was hired in 1987 and promoted to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure in 1992. Thompson-Sard's claims are based on averages, calculated from the Report, indicating that male Associate Professors in the College of Education earned approximately $15,000 more per year than their female counterparts.

The matter proceeded on the basis of the University's motion to dismiss for failure to file timely. The trial court framed the issue as whether plaintiffs could bring an action alleging illegal pay discrimination when disparate pay was received during the statute [204 N.J. 225] of limitations period, but was the result of an allegedly intentional discriminatory

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pay decision that occurred outside the limitations period. To answer that, the trial judge adopted the reasoning in Ledbetter, supra, 550 U.S. 618, 127 S.Ct. 2162, 167 L.Ed.2d 982, and dismissed plaintiffs' allegations " that related to wage decisions made prior to July 27, 2005, or the impact of those decisions upon plaintiffs' salaries following July 27, 2005." 1 Plaintiffs' surviving claims therefore were limited, in effect, to the presentation of any fresh discriminatory pay actions, along the lines of the discrete act of the original discriminatory pay-setting decision, that occurred during the two years prior to the filing of the complaint on July 27, 2007.

After unsuccessfully seeking reconsideration, plaintiffs moved to amend the order of May 2, 2008 into a final order dismissing the entire complaint. Plaintiffs represented that because they claimed a " continuing pattern" of discriminatory compensation, all of their claims were impacted by original pay-setting decisions made outside the statute of limitations period. In their motion, plaintiffs certified, " While the wording of the Court's Order of May 2, 2008 appears to dismiss only parts of the Complaint, it effectively dismisses the entire Complaint since nothing remains to be pursued...

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