Rendine v. Pantzer

CourtNew Jersey Superior Court – Appellate Division
Citation648 A.2d 223,276 N.J.Super. 398
PartiesCandy RENDINE and Bernadette Lorestani, Plaintiffs/Respondents-Cross-Appellants, v. Edward PANTZER, d/b/a Pantzer Management Company, Defendant/Appellant-Cross-Respondent.
Decision Date14 July 1994

Page 398

276 N.J.Super. 398
648 A.2d 223
Candy RENDINE and Bernadette Lorestani,
Edward PANTZER, d/b/a Pantzer Management Company,
Superior Court of New Jersey,
Appellate Division.
Argued March 16, 1994.
Decided July 14, 1994.

Page 406

[648 A.2d 227] Rosemary Alito, Newark, for appellant/cross-respondent (Carpenter, Bennett & Morrissey, attorneys; Stephen F. Payerle and Patricia Bellac, on the brief).

Nancy Erika Smith, West Orange, for respondents/cross-appellants (Smith, Mullin & Kiernan, attorneys; Ms. Smith, Kyle M. Francis, Jon W. Green and Tara Levy, on the brief).

Before Judges KING, HAVEY and RODRIGUEZ.

The opinion of the court was delivered by


In this sex discrimination case, the employer, defendant Edward Pantzer, owner and president of Pantzer Management Company, a rental property management business with about 190 employees, appeals from a jury's verdicts and substantial damage awards in favor of two former employees for violation of the Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -42. Plaintiff Candy Rendine recovered a compensatory and punitive damage judgment of $460,000; plaintiff Bernadette Lorestani recovered compensatory and punitive awards of $475,000. Both plaintiffs also recovered prejudgment interest, counsel fees, and costs, in addition to their compensatory and punitive damage awards.

On this appeal, the defendant employer makes these claims of error:

1. The plaintiffs' claims should have been tried separately.

2. The jury instructions on the issues of discrimination and burden of proof were incorrect.

3. The punitive and emotional distress damage awards were not justified.

4. The reasonable attorneys fee lodestar sum should not have been doubled to compensate for the contingency of success or failure.

On the cross-appeal, plaintiffs contend that the trial judge improperly dismissed Rendine's breach of contract claim and Lorestani's wage discrimination claim. We find no merit on either the appeal or the cross-appeal and affirm.

Page 407


Plaintiff Rendine earned a degree in accounting in 1979 and then worked as an auditor and financial analyst with a bank for four years. In 1983 she accepted a position with defendant as assistant controller. Defendant Edward Pantzer was the president and owner of the company and Michael Pantzer (Michael), his brother, was the executive vice-president. In 1985 they hired Steve Weinerman as controller; he was Rendine's immediate superior.

When defendant first interviewed Rendine, he asked her if she had plans to marry and have children "within five years of being married." Rendine answered that she "hoped to be married," but had no plans for children. As assistant controller of residential properties, Rendine supervised "a staff of accountants for accounts receivable, accounts payable, security refund ... [and] payroll." There were about twenty employees at the central office in Tenafly, plus others who worked at the various properties. Rendine was a member of the executive committee, which met weekly and made "all the major decisions of the company." The other members of the committee were the defendant Edward Pantzer, Michael Pantzer, Weinerman, who was Michael's assistant, and Bill Bodger, head of acquisitions.

When Rendine began work, her first assignment was to revamp a six-month old computer system, verifying information about thousands of tenants at numerous properties. She spent some three months visiting the properties in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, collecting the information, and then entering it into the computer. She worked every evening until six or seven and sometimes until nine. Rendine also prepared a manual explaining the procedure for entering information into the computer.

[648 A.2d 228] In 1984, after Rendine announced her engagement to marry, she said that defendant called her into his office and asked her to polish some silver for him. "[H]e said that since I was getting married and probably going to have silver once I was married,

Page 408

that it would be good practice for me to polish his silver." Rendine politely declined. Defendant denied that this occurred.

With her November annual performance reviews, Rendine received a fourteen-percent salary increase in 1984, fourteen percent in 1985, and eleven percent in 1986. She also received Christmas bonuses for these years of $2500, $1500, and $2500. In January 1986 Michael wrote Rendine a letter, thanking her for doing a good job. Suzanne Rivera, one of the employees whom Rendine supervised, corroborated her competence and ability, and her patience and fairness in dealing with those who worked under her.

Lorestani was hired as a staff accountant to assist Rendine in June 1984. She had five years' experience in bookkeeping or accounting and she earned an accounting degree in 1985. In her job interview, defendant asked her whether she was married, and she said she was engaged. He also asked if she planned to have children. She answered that she "wasn't really thinking at that point about children." Rivera, who was hired in June 1987, was also asked in her job interview about plans to have children.

Lorestani monitored the apartments occupied by defendant's employees, met with Michael each month to review them, and assisted Rendine with the preparation of financial reports. Rendine, who trained Lorestani, thought she was "a very good employee.... She executed all her functions well." Rivera corroborated Lorestani's competence and excellent job performance. Weinerman was also very happy with Lorestani's job performance. Five months after she was hired, Lorestani, whose starting salary was $19,000 a year, received an eleven-percent increment. The following year, 1986, she again received an eleven-percent increment, and in 1987 she received a twelve-percent increment. She also received Christmas bonuses in the amounts of $500 in 1984, and $1000 in 1985 and 1986.

Lorestani's responsibilities increased during the time she worked for defendant. She assumed responsibility for dealing with the managers in the field and took over the cash reconciliations and money-market account activity on about twenty properties.

Page 409

She worked long hours, arriving early in the morning, frequently staying until 7 p.m., and also working on weekends when needed.

Plaintiffs were "inundated" with work, including new properties, and Rendine decided that a bookkeeper should be hired. After consultations with Weinerman and defendant, the bookkeeper position was created. Pam Gaetano was hired in 1987; she worked under Lorestani, who trained her. Rendine evaluated Gaetano, and found her to be "an okay employee." With no math or accounting background, Gaetano "continually had problems understanding ... a bank reconciliation, doing anything that really had to do with math." Although both Rendine and Lorestani "kept on trying to train her extensively," Rendine felt that Gaetano was unable "to take on staff accountant responsibilities."

Another staff accountant, Dominic Battista, was hired in 1985 or 1986 but he left after about a year. When Lorestani began working with defendant, she was assigned to clean the kitchen. However, when Battista was hired, she "noticed that he did not have kitchen duty. So, I talked to Mr. Michael Pantzer and I asked why that was, and he took me off of the kitchen duty instead of putting Dominic on."

Before Battista was hired, Weinerman told Rendine that "he wanted to hire a male for that position, that they really would not consider a female at that time." He told her that:

I]t would be in the best interests of the company to look for a male because Bernadette and I had recently been married and we were of child bearing age and our, what do they call it, our biological clock was ticking to have children, our time was running out because we were getting older

The issue of the gender of the new accountant was discussed at an executive committee meeting, where everyone except Rendine [648 A.2d 229] agreed with Weinerman's theory. Weinerman denied making this comment.

Rendine was married in December 1984 and purchased a home with a substantial mortgage in October 1985. Her husband's salary was about the same as hers. Both salaries were needed to

Page 410

carry the home. Lorestani was married in May 1985, and purchased a home, with a mortgage, in November 1985. Both Lorestani and her husband had substantial student loans to repay and were supporting her husband's younger sister. Lorestani and her husband were both earning the same salary; both incomes were needed for their support.

In late December 1986 or early January 1987 Lorestani told Michael Pantzer that she was pregnant. She told him that she planned to return to work, and that her sister would take care of her child. "He was very happy for me. He congratulated me." When asked when she would return, Lorestani answered in four or five weeks with a regular delivery, or six to eight weeks if she needed a Caesarean. Lorestani discussed her maternity leave many times with defendant, his brother, Michael, and Weinerman. She repeatedly told each that she planned to return to work when she was physically able. They each assured her that her job would be available on return. Rendine also announced her pregnancy in January 1987 and defendant, Michael and Weinerman all "appeared to be happy for me." She advised them from the outset that she planned to take at least three months' maternity leave, and then return to work. On several occasions, she was assured that "your job will be waiting for you." Rendine testified about an executive committee meeting while she was pregnant, at which her colleagues said that she looked like a "beached salmon." However, defendant and Michael denied that they or anyone else made any jokes or comments about pregnancy in general or about Rendine in particular....

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