Lawsuit in New Jersey State Court Accuses Police Department of Sexual Harassment, Race Discrimination, and Harassment

A lawsuit filed in a New Jersey Superior Court against a police department and several police officials seeks over $1 million in damages for alleged race discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation. The plaintiff in Cruz v. Old Bridge Police Department, et al alleges that the department ignored her repeated complaints of sexual harassment because of her race, and then subjected her to retaliation and a hostile work environment that prevented her from returning to work. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) protects workers from employment discrimination based on factors like race and sex, and includes sexual harassment as a form of gender discrimination.

The plaintiff, according to local news coverage, was hired in May 2004 as an auxiliary police officer for the Old Bridge Police Department. This is a part-time position that works certain events, assisting the police department by providing crowd and traffic control. She alleges that a lieutenant began sexually harassing her shortly after she was divorced by asking her questions and making comments of an inappropriate sexual nature, and with direct sexual advances. She asserts that she asked him to stop and reported the matter to the department’s Internal Affairs unit, but the harassment continued.

When the lieutenant was promoted to captain, he became the plaintiff’s direct supervisor. She claims that he created a hostile work environment by “ostraciz[ing] here” and behaving in a “disrespectful and…demeaning manner.” The department ignored her complaints, she claims, because she is a black Hispanic woman. She received a charge of “conduct unbecoming” that she claims was false, and in September 2011 she was suspended without pay for allegedly submitting false time records in order to increase her pay. She also denies this charge. The department did not fire her, but reportedly also did not set an end date for her suspension. The township listed her employment status as “did not return,” according to the Home News Tribune. She either quit or was terminated by the department in December 2011.

The plaintiff filed suit on November 26, 2013, naming as defendants the department, the chief of police, the captain in charge of the records department, and the captain she alleges committed the sexual harassment. She claimed more than $1 million in damages for sexual harassment, race discrimination, and retaliation under the NJLAD. The initial reporting on the case focused on the form of her complaint, which reportedly contained multiple spelling and grammatical errors. She stated through her attorney that the complaint was filed without proofreading in order to meet the statute of limitations. She also stated that the defendants would not be served until she could amend the complaint, which she did with a filing in late January 2014.

The NJLAD imposes two strict statutes of limitations. An individual alleging unlawful employment discrimination or other acts must file an administrative complaint with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Division of Civil Rights within 180 days of the alleged unlawful act. NJ Rev. Stat. § 10:5-18. A two-year statute of limitations from the same date applies to civil lawsuits filed in Superior Court, based on the two-year statute in personal injury cases. Montells v. Haynes, 133 N.J. 282, 292 (1993). Since the last alleged unlawful act in the present case would likely have occurred when her employment ended in December 2011, the plaintiff’s statute of limitations was nearing its end in late November 2013.

If you need to speak to an employment attorney in New Jersey or New York, contact the Resnick Law Group at 973-781-1204 or (646) 867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

Third Circuit Court of Appeals Addresses Legal Definition of “Employer” in Sexual Harassment Case, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, February 21, 2014
Settlement Shows Workplace Sexual Harassment Can Happen Anywhere in New Jersey and Elsewhere, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, January 29, 2014
New York Lawmakers Propose Bill That Would Protect Interns From Harassment and Discrimination, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, December 3, 2013

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