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NJ Civil Settlements

Gloucester County Improvement Authority confidentially paid out $55,000 to settle kitchen worker’s sexual harassment lawsuit.

On December 2, 2019, the Gloucester County Improvement Authority quietly agreed to pay $55,000 to a kitchen worker at the Authority’s Shady Lane Child Development Center who had sued the Authority for sexual harassment and for maintaining a hostile work environment.  The alleged harassment included a supervisor presenting her “with a sexually-suggestive plate of food, featuring a hot dog protruding from the plate sitting between two round mounds of food suggestive of male genitalia.”

In her lawsuit, Geraldine A. Miller, a food service worker at Shady Lane since October 2017, claimed that she was continually harassed by Robin Atkinson and other co-workers because she refused their invitations to go with them to bars and strip clubs after work.  She also accused Atkinson of making sexually-suggestive gestures in her presence and reporting her to supervisor Anthony Pepe for “not joining in.”  Miller claimed that Pepe, in response to Atkinson’s complaints, called her into his office once per week to tell her that “she needed to relax, fit in and have fun [and] that he wanted her to get along with her co-workers.”  Miller said that she “understood this to mean Pepe wanted her to fall in line with the workplace behaviors about which she complained.”

Miller claimed that she often complained to her supervisors about the harassment and that her complaints resulted in a mandate that all Shady Lane kitchen workers watch a sexual harassment video.  She alleged that her co-workers made jokes during the video and retaliated against her afterwards.  The lawsuit alleges that Atkinson “slammed down a ‘slop bucket’ on a pile of dishes [Miller] was washing, causing the slop to splash on [Miller’s] person” and that other co-workers shouted “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” 

Miller claimed that on February 16, 2018, her supervisors told her that she was “paranoid and that she was being placed on paid administrative leave pending a mandatory mental health fitness-for-duty examination. 

Of the $55,000 settlement, $5,000 was for lost wages, $32,465 was for “alleged compensatory damages including alleged emotional injuries accompanied by medical treatment” and $17,535 was for attorney fees and costs.  The settlement agreement also called for the Authority to give Miller back 83 hours of sick time and 91 hours of vacation time.

The case is captioned Geraldine A. Miller v. Gloucester County Improvement Authority, Gloucester County Superior Court Docket No. GLO-L-376-18 and the six officers’ attorney was Jacqueline M. Vigilante of Mullica Hill. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.  A news story published when the lawsuit was filed is on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of lawsuit’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  The Settlement agreement states that the $55,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pepe, Atkinson, the Authority or any of the Authority’s officials and employees.  All that is known for sure is that the Authority or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay $55,000 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.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project