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New Jersey Lawsuits Allege Same-Sex Sexual Harassment by Police Lieutenant

Sexual harassment is a serious problem in workplaces throughout New Jersey and the country. New Jersey law views it as a form of sex discrimination. While perhaps the most common image of New Jersey workplace sexual harassment involves a male supervisor or manager acting offensively towards a female employee, it can occur between people of any gender. A pair of lawsuits filed in a New Jersey Superior Court earlier this summer allege same-sex sexual harassment. The plaintiffs are male police officers. They both claim that their supervisor, a male police lieutenant, subjected them to ongoing sexual harassment.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, race, and multiple other factors. Numerous court decisions have held that sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination under the NJLAD and other statutes in several situations. One of these, known as “hostile work environment,” occurs when an employee faces unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature in the workplace, which is so severe or pervasive that it interferes with their ability to do their job.

The first court cases to recognize sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination involved male supervisors harassing female employees. In a 1998 decision, Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that male-on-male sexual harassment can also violate employment discrimination laws. The case involved a worker on an offshore oil drilling rig who faced repeated acts of humiliation by his coworkers, ranging from mockery about his perceived sexual orientation to outright assault. A unanimous court held that “harassing conduct” based on sex could violate the law even if it was not “motivated by sexual desire.”

The two plaintiffs are veteran police officers who worked for their department’s internal affairs division, with the defendant as their direct supervisor. One plaintiff alleges that the harassment began in 2012, when the defendant would make inappropriate sexual comments, use hand gestures to simulate sexual acts, and engage in other unwelcome conduct. Eventually, the plaintiff claims, the defendant cornered him and groped his genital area.

The second plaintiff alleges in his lawsuit that the defendant began sexually harassing him in 2019. The plaintiff states that he confided in the defendant about a traumatic incident from his childhood when an adult neighbor appeared to be fondling himself through his pockets while watching the plaintiff. The defendant allegedly shared this story with others in the department. The plaintiff also claims that the defendant would put his hands in his pockets and repeat the same motions whenever he saw the plaintiff. Similar to the first plaintiff’s allegations, the defendant’s conduct allegedly escalated to groping.

The first plaintiff stated that he was hesitant to report the alleged harassment because of the defendant’s position as head of internal affairs. When he did report it, he claims that the police chief simply told him “I know how he is.” The department eventually placed the defendant on paid administrative leave, and he faces a disorderly conduct charge for the alleged assault against the second plaintiff. In addition to the lieutenant, the lawsuits name the police chief, the police department, the borough, and several other officials as defendants.

The Resnick Law Group’s employment lawyers advocate for the rights of employees, former employees, and job seekers in New Jersey and New York. Please contact us today online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you with your case.

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