On October 14, 2019, the New Lisbon Developmental Center (NLDC), a State-operated facility in Burlington County treating women and men with intellectual and developmental disabilities, agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a female Cottage Training Technician who claimed that she was sexually harassed by a male coworker despite his reputation as a sexual harasser.

In her lawsuit, Shontrell Coleman, who had worked at NLDC since 2001, said that her problems began when Ralph Kardio, also a Cottage Training Technician, was assigned to Coleman’s building in December 2016.  Coleman claimed that Kardio “almost immediately” subjected her to “unwelcomed sexual comments, advances and gestures.” For example, Kardio allegedly took her phone to put his phone number in it, said that he “liked her (romantically)” and told her that “she can use him anyway she wants.”

Coleman said that she complained about Kardio’s behavior several times to Michael Scott, her night supervisor.  In February 2017, after her report to Scott, Kardio allegedly “cornered [Coleman] in the women’s break room and told her that the only way she could leave was if she gave him a kiss.”  Another worker reportedly walked in allowing Coleman to free herself.  When she again complained to Scott, Scott told her to take her complaint to his boss, Andrew Davis.  Davis, who Coleman alleged knew of Kardio’s reputation, told her to report the matter to Hope Cheeks, who was Davis’ boss.  Upon receipt of the complaint, Cheeks allegedly acknowledged that “this is his [Mr. Kardio’s] reputation” and said that she would speak with him.

According to the lawsuit, Cheeks eventually called Coleman and told her that Kardio admitted to sexually harassing her but that she couldn’t do anything more than “make Mr. Kardio work up front while Plaintiff was working or change his shift.”  Cheeks, however, allegedly did not change Kardio’s shift.

Coleman said that she then filed a complaint with New Jersey’s internal Equal Employment Opportunity department.  Kardio was then moved to a building across the street from Coleman’s. 

Coleman claimed that despite Kardio’s move to another building, she still had to endure three months of sexual harassment from Kardio, who she said “had a lengthy reputation of sexually harassing women in the workplace and has sexually harassed women more than once while working with the State of New Jersey.”  She said that instead of taking appropriate action, the State merely “shifted Mr. Kardio around from building to building so that he can sexually harass his next victim.”

Of the $150,000 settlement amount, Coleman received $85,519.78 and her attorney received $64,480.22.

The case is captioned Coleman v. Buena Regional School District, et al, Federal Civil Case No. 1:17-cv-11773 and Coleman’s attorney was Jeremy M. Cerutti of Bensalem, PA.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Kardio or any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that the State of New Jersey, NLDC or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Coleman $150,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants’ decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]