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OCEAN COUNTY BOARD OF HEALTH HIT WITH DISCRIMINATION LAWSUIT: FORMER EMPLOYEE ALLEGES RETALIATION AND WRONGFUL TERMINATION AFTER REPORTING WORKPLACE HARASSMENT




The Ocean County Board of Health has just been slammed with a discrimination lawsuit alleging that an employee was terminated after reporting workplace harassment, FAA News has learned.


According to the complaint filed in New Jersey Superior Court in Ocean County by Lawrenceville Attorney Nicholas J. Repici, Esq.:


Plaintiff, Michelle Clarke began working with the Ocean County Health Department in October 2021 as a part-time, seasonal Clinic Attendant. 

 

After months of satisfactory performance in her position, in May 2022, Clarke was offered, and accepted a full-time Open Public Records Act Clerk position.


After accepting this new position, she was directed to begin training with Crystal Jones. On March 25, 2022, Ms. Jones informed Clarke that her formal training period was completed and that she was “ready to go” in connection with her new position.


3 days later, Ms. Jones went out on a medical leave and never returned to work.


The following day, Patrick Smitsky, approached Clarke and Kayla, another female OPRA clerk, and stated, “I’m coming to train you girls because I did this job before Crystal.” 


Patrick was very condescending towards the women, telling them that, they “cannot do the job themselves,” and that they were to perform the job in a different manner than in which they were just trained. 


On March 30, 2022, Patrick again spent the day training the women. He was invading Clarke's personal space, “sitting on top of [i.e., immediately next to]” her, and continued speaking to both her and Kalya in a belittling manner. 


Kayla did not return to work after this incident.


The next day, Patrick again informed Clarke that he will spend the day training her.


Patrick was again “sitting right on top” of her to the point that their bodies were touching while using the computer. His physical demeanor and tone of voice were making her very uncomfortable. She repeatedly asked Patrick to “back off a little” due to his sitting so close.


While this training was in progress, the fire alarm sounded in the building. Clarke said to Patrick, “we should leave,” to which Patrick responded, “no, no, no.” 


Clarke felt intimidated and trapped by Patrick due to his demeanor and comments. Eventually, the Fire Chief came through the building and directed both of them to leave.


The next day, Supervisor Scott told Clarke that the fire chief alerted him that they stayed in the building. Scott asked her what happened. She explained to him that Patrick told her she could not leave despite the alarm sounding.


She further informed Supervisor Scott that she felt intimidated by Patrick and was uncomfortable being around him due to his belittling comments. 


Clarke did not train with Patrick on April 1, 2022 because he was working off-site at the clinic that day; however, before he left for the clinic, he told her, “you got me in trouble with Supervisor Scott.”


The next workday the work environment became even more unbearable for Clarke. On Monday, April 4, 2022, Patrick came into the office, smelling of alcohol, and screaming at Clarke.


Patrick again proceeded to sit right “on top” of Clarke as she continued to perform her job duties. He sat immediately next to her, to the point of physical contact, while playing on his phone, as a means of further intimidation. 


At this point, Clarke informed Patrick that he was making her uncomfortable and suggested that he work from his office and that she would seek him out if she had any questions. Patrick snipped back, “NO!” He then continued, “You still don’t have this job, you know … you have a probation period.” 


The next day, Patrick continued his harassing conduct, telling her that she was “stupid” and “needed to use her brain.” 


Clarke immediately told Patrick that it was not acceptable for him to speak to her in that manner, just because she is a woman. She further asked him to not speak with her in this manner again. 


At the end of the workday, she went to Director Brian E. Rumpf’s office to inform him of the ongoing harassment and hostile work environment created by Patrick. His office staff scheduled a meeting.


At the eventual meeting, Clarke told Rumpf of Patrick’s harassing conduct, how he reeked of alcohol while at work, continually made belittling and intimidating remarks to her, and invaded her physical space.


Clarke emphasized that Patrick never would have treated her in that manner if she were a man. 


Rumpf made a vague remark along the lines of, “I heard something about you and Patrick,” but took no further action regarding her complaints.


Thereafter, on May 9, 2002, Clarke received communication from her supervisors indicating that her employment was ending effective May 12, 2022. This termination notice came as complete shock to her.


The five count complaint alleges violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination; i) gender discrimination and hostile work environment; ii) retaliation/ improper reprisal; iii) wrongful termination in violation of the New Jersey Public Policy; iv) punitive damages, and v) equitable relief.


The suit demands judgement in the form of a court order reinstating her job, ordering her supervisors to cease and desist all inappropriate conduct, both as to her as well to all other individuals similarly situated, back pay and front pay, lost wages, benefits, fringe benefits and other remuneration court costs and attorneys’ fees along with statutory and required enhancements to said attorneys’ fees.


The suit further requests that the Court order the Board of Health to alter their files so as to expunge any reference to which this Honorable Court finds violates the statutes.


The Ocean County Board of Health has 35 days to answer the complaint.


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