On March 12, 2021, the Township of Branchburg (Somerset County) agreed to pay $220,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a female police officer (now sergeant) who claimed that her superior officers sexually harassed her, called her a “nice piece of ass,” and that one superior reached over in a patrol car and “began rubbing and massaging [her] crotch and vagina.” (Note: two of the superior officers have filed a federal lawsuit in which they vehemently deny the allegations against them. That federal lawsuit is linked below).
In her lawsuit, Kate Proscia-Berger claimed that shortly after she began her career as a Branchburg police officer in 2002, she “has been subjected to various and severe sexual comments and unwanted physical advances.” Specifically, she alleged:
- Sergeant Corey Floyd: Almost immediately after her hiring date, Floyd frequently asked her to engage in sexual relations with him, commented on her figure, and told her “about all of his girlfriends and his need for sex,” according to the lawsuit. Proscia-Berger claimed that Floyd’s behavior escalated to a physical assault when, while in a patrol car, he allegedly “reached over [Proscia-Berger] and began rubbing and massaging [her] crotch and vagina.” On another occasion, Proscia-Berger alleged that Floyd “grabbed [her] by her wrist and kissed her on the mouth with his tongue [and] “proceeded to grope [her] all over her body, including her butt and crotch areas.” She alleged that Floyd showed her a photo on phone “of a yoga instructor posing provocatively and said how flexible she was and that he was going to be alone for the weekend because his wife and children were going to be away.”
- Lieutenant Peter Crisafulli: Proscia-Berger alleged that Crisafulli “was consistently flirtatious with [her] and other women and frequently made comments about [her] looks and physique.” He allegedly told Proscia-Berger about how she was “in his dreams” and described those dreams in detail. Proscia-Berger claimed that Crisafulli knew her since she was fourteen and “frequently referenced past physical encounters that he had with [her]” and even though she rebuffed his advances, he allegedly “kissed her inside police headquarters, fondled her and tried to rub her back.” Crisafulli also “repeatedly told her that he was unhappy in his marriage and wanted to have sex with her even though he said he knew he was her supervisor,” according to the lawsuit. Crisafulli allegedly told her that “he had a vasectomy he needed to have sex or be ‘jerked off’” and that he “stood in the doorway of the ladies locker room when he made those comments while touching himself in his genital area.”
- NOTE: On March 18, 2021, both Floyd and Crisafulla filed a federal lawsuit against Branchburg, Proscia-Berger, the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office and former Branchburg Police Chief David Young in which they claim that Proscia-Berger did not deserve promotion and that she said she would “blow the doors off” the Branchburg Police Department if she wasn’t promoted. According to the federal lawsuit, Proscia-Berger’s claims of sexual harassment “were fallacious, fabricated, fictitious, contrived, manufactured, untrue, fictional, malicious and/or preposterous.” Update: On April 29, 2022, Crisafulli’s and Floyd’s lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Zahid N. Quraishi. Crisafulli and Floyd have appealed the dismissal.
- Sergeant Manuel Camunas: Proscia-Berger alleged that Camunas, in the presence of Crisafulli and Patrol Commander Bill Halderman, commented on her body and said that she was a “nice piece of ass.” She alleged that she once confronted Camunas as to whether he told Halderman or Crisafulli that she had sex with him (Camunas). Camunas denied that he had said that but added “I knew you always wanted me baby,” according to the lawsuit. She alleged that Camunas offered, along with Crisafulli, “to vote on her promotion if she didn’t say anything to anyone because he was on probation and didn’t want to lose his sergeant stripes.”
- Sergeant Thomas Meola: Proscia-Berger alleged that she reported the harassment she endured to Meola. Meola appeared to be upset by the allegations of harassment but said that “nothing could be done because it was a ‘he said, she said’ allegation.” She alleged that Meola “falsely informed the Police Administration that [she] had authored anonymous letters criticizing and slandering the Chief, knowing that the statements were false and did so to discredit the [her] and further retaliate against her for her complaints.”
Proscia-Berger alleged that Branchburg’s promotion process is flawed because “someone can’t be promoted unless voted on by the superior officers.” She claimed that despite her glowing reviews, promotions were withheld from her and given to more junior male officers. She alleged that the promotion process “is akin to a fraternity house on a college campus” and that the process is “rife with discrimination and harassment.”
According to a December 23, 2020 Courier News article, “Branchburg Police Department will remain under prosecutor’s office’s control,” by Mike Deak, the Branchburg Police Department has been under the control of the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office which is conducting a “comprehensive evaluation” of the department.
Of the $220,000, Proscia-Berger received $109,417.23 for her “pain and suffering, emotional distress, and physical manifestations of injury damages” and $36,472.41 for “economic damages.” The remaining $74,110.36 was paid to her lawyer for fees and costs.
According to the Township’s response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request:
- Proscia-Berger is presently a sergeant with 19 years of service making $133,744.48 per year.
- Floyd retired on May 29, 2020 as a Sergeant Grade 4 at an annual salary of $146,074.29.
- Crisafulli retired on May 1, 2019 as a Lieutenant Grade 4 at an annual salary of $152,150.90.
- Camunas and Meola, who were both sergeants with 21 and 14 years of service respectively, are still employed by the department with each earning $136,778.65 per year.
The case is captioned Kate Proscia-Berger v. Township of Branchburg, et al, Docket No. SOM-L-1049-19 and Proscia-Berger’s attorney was Alan Genitempo of Nutley. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.
The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which Proscia-Berger agreed to keep “the amounts set forth as the Settlement Payment . . . completely confidential.” 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. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants or officials named in the lawsuit. All that is known for sure is that Branchburg or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Proscia-Berger $220,000 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.