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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

She quit, then sued for wrongful termination; New Jersey courts aren't buying her lawsuit

State Court

By Scott Holland | Aug 29, 2019


TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) – The Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey has upheld the dismissal of a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by a woman who resigned from her position.

Cecile Portilla, a registered nurse and lawyer, sued Maxim HealthCare Services Inc., where she worked as director of clinical services from April through September 2013. She resigned from the job, claiming constructive discharge, and said the company improperly fired her and violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, including allegations of a hostile work environment, retaliation and handicap discrimination.

Essex County Superior Court Judge Dennis Carey granted summary judgment in favor of Maxim on Jan. 5, 2018, prompting Portilla’s appeal to the Superior Court Appellate Division, which ruled against her in a unanimous opinion issued Aug. 20. Judges William Nugent, Susan Reisner and Hany Mawla ruled on the case.

The ruling stated Maxim named Portilla as “a self-described ‘paradigmatic whistleblower’” who didn’t fully disclose her employment history, routinely failed to complete weekly reports and often was “absent from meetings she was scheduled to lead. Perhaps more significant, plaintiff was demeaning and disrespectful to other employees. She also failed to follow required policies and procedures.”

After failing to correct conduct during a 30-day performance improvement plan, two supervisors attempted to meet with her in person. After one arrived, according to the opinion, the supervisor “told (Portilla) she had to park her car and would then return for the meeting. (Portilla) locked her office, exited through the building’s back door, and never returned. Two days later, she sent a letter saying she had been constructively discharged.”

The panel further said Portilla’s response to Maxim’s 89-paragraph material fact filing didn’t comply with court rules, and that she submitted a 169-paragraph “Counterstatement of Material Facts Not in Dispute,” many of which were not actual material facts.

“We agree with the trial court that the evidence on the summary judgment motion was so one-sided that defendants had to prevail as a matter of law,” the panel wrote. “Plaintiff’s claims for wrongful discharge fail because, indisputably, plaintiff was not discharged; she resigned.”

The panel further said Portilla didn’t establish she was forced to resign because of workplace conditions and that her constitutional violations claims aren’t allowed because neither Maxim nor its supervisory staff were acting under color of law.

Portilla was represented by Eldridge T. Hawkins.

Representing Maxim and its employees was Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.

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