Sexual harassment lawsuits, filed by NJ sexual harassment lawyers on behalf of state workers, against state agencies is costing New Jersey millions, yet many of the offenders remain on the job or have retired with lucrative pensions, according to an investigation by the Asbury Park Press.
A cadet at the state’s corrections officer academy said she was subjected to offensive obscenities, inappropriate touching my male instructors, sex and gender discrimination and on-the-job retaliation in the wake of complaints to superiors. Fed up, she sued in 2005 and agreed to settle the case last year for $415,000. She now works as a senior corrections officer at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.
Despite millions in settlements, most agencies refuse to discuss the issue — citing either ongoing litigation or private personnel issues not subject to disclosure. However, the newspaper’s investigation found many state employees or supervisors who have been named in the lawsuits either continue to work for the state or have retired with generous pensions. Many of the employee complaints allege the harassment has been occurring for years, according to the Park Press.
Whether in the private or public sector, failure to adequately deal with employees who violate sexual harassment policy ensures that the company remains exposed to such lawsuits and that employees remain exposed to unlawful conduct in the workplace.
The New Jersey Civil Service Commission reports nearly 1,000 state employees have filed sexual harassment lawsuits in the last 5 years. In recent years, 27 lawsuits have been settled for a total of $3.9 million. The average settlement is $145,000. In fact, the number of sexual harassment complaints in New Jersey has increased by 10 percent since 2006, even as the number of complaints nationwide has dropped by 5.5 percent.
The State of New Jersey has had a sexual harassment policy on the books since 1993 and all of the state’s 74,000 employees are required to take training courses aimed at preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Sexual harassment which creates a hostile work environment is when an employee endures sexually abusive or offensive behavior and does not have to include physical contact. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is when an employer demands sexual favors as a condition of continued employment or advancement.
A total of 78 complaints involving state workers have been filed this year through Sept. 12.
Ironically, most of the settlements involved state agencies entrusted with enforcing the law. The State Department of Law and Public Safety was responsible for more than $1 million in settlements — the highest dollar amount of any agency. Other agencies included state courts, the Juvenile Intensive Supervision Program and the Department of Corrections.
A spokesman for the state Attorney General said state agencies thoroughly investigate complaints and that disciplinary action can include reprimand, demotion, suspension or termination.
If you need to speak to an employment law attorney in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group at 973-781-1204 or 646-867-7997.
State of harassment, By Todd B. Bates, Asbury Park-Press, Sept. 24, 2012.