An ex-judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey whose lawsuit claims that the courthouse where she worked was a hostile work environment has been ordered to submit to a mental health examination.
Deborah Gross-Quatrone, who seeks damages for alleged emotional distress that was manifested in physical symptoms, resisted the state judiciary’s demand to have her submit to an interview with a psychiatrist.
But U.S. District Judge Julien X. Neals said the psychiatrist’s exam is warranted because Gross-Quatrone placed her mental condition in controversy with her claim of emotional distress, and because “fundamental fairness” dictates that the defendants be allowed to look into the cause and extent of her symptoms with the help of a qualified expert.
Fact Witnesses, Not Experts
Neals affirmed a decision by U.S. Magistrate Judge Leda Dunn Wettre compelling Gross-Quatrone to meet with a mental health professional. Gross-Quatrone asserted that she intended to offer her own treating physicians, including psychiatrist Joseph Acquaviva, who diagnosed her with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, as fact witnesses, but not as experts. She claimed that because she did not intend to call expert witnesses, she did not place her mental condition into controversy.
Gross-Quatrone also said there was no good cause for an exam by a doctor for the state judiciary because she already underwent a neuropsychological exam in 2020 in connection with her application for a New Jersey disability pension.
But Wettre found that that examination was conducted by a doctor for the state, which is not a party to the present case.
Neals said “that the magistrate judge’s decision to grant defendants’ motion to compel plaintiff to undergo an independent medical examination pursuant to Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was correct. Judge Wettre’s decision thoroughly addressed all the factors in considering whether a party’s mental condition is ‘in controversy’ and the movant establishes ‘good cause’ for the examination.”
The decision is the latest step in a long-running battle between Gross-Quatrone and her former bosses at the Bergen County Courthouse.
Hairstyle and Wardrobe
The present suit claims that after she became a judge in 2015 and was assigned to Bergen County, Gross-Quatrone began having contentious dealings with Assignment Judge Bonnie Mizdol.
Gross-Quatrone’s suit claims Mizdol and two court administrators, Diana Moskal and Laura Simoldoni, discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and created a hostile work environment.
Gross-Quatrone claimed in the suit that Mizdol was highly critical of her hairstyle and wardrobe, and frequently commented on her appearance.
The present suit was filed shortly after Gross-Quatrone was the subject of an ethics complaint for secretly recording meetings with Mizdol and court administrators, among other allegations, which earned her an unpaid two-month suspension.
Gross-Quatrone also filed a second suit against the judiciary in 2020, claiming she was discriminated against when she applied for a disability pension. That suit was voluntarily dismissed in April 2021.
In the present suit, Gross-Quatrone says that job-related stress caused her to experience nosebleeds so severe that she developed a hole in her septum and had to have a prosthetic implanted surgically. Gross-Quatrone testified in her deposition that her nosebleeds are so severe that she ends up covered with blood, that she spit up blood at least daily as a result of stress caused by the defendants, experienced a pounding in her chest every day, and had severe migraines worse than she experienced before 2015, the appeals court said.
Neals said that Wettre correctly concluded that her allegations rise to the level of “unusually severe,” and the court should not “hamstring” the defendants by limiting their case to mere cross-examination of fact witnesses.
Neals’ opinion said Gross-Quatrone “continues to draw a salary as a Superior Court judge,” but a judiciary spokeswoman, Mary Ann Spoto, said her term as a judge expired in March.
Gross-Quatrone’s lawyer, Ralph Ferrara of Ferrara Law Group in Marlton, did not respond to a request for comment about the ruling. A lawyer representing the state, Kathleen Dohn of Brown & Connery in Westmont, could not be reached. The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.