On February 15, 2022, Township of Branchburg (Somerset County) confidentially paid $325,000 to a female police sergeant who claimed that she was retaliated against and forced out of her career for reporting police supervisors who allegedly sexually harassed two other female employees.
In her lawsuit filed on October 9, 2020, Christine Auleta claimed that she has been “discriminated against . . . on the basis of her gender throughout her twenty-one year career” with the Branchburg Police. She claimed that less experienced male officers were promoted over her “time and time again.” She reportedly was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2015.
Out of the the twenty-six officers who worked for Branchburg, only she and Kate Proscia-Berger were female, according to the lawsuit. She claimed that on August 2, 2018, Proscia-Berger informed her that she “had been subjected to severe and pervasive sexual harassment and sexual assault by” senior Branchburg officers. Details of the alleged harassment and assault, together with Lieutenant Peter Crisafulli’s and Sergeant Corey Floyd’s vehement denials of those allegations, are fully described in my May 24, 2021 article that reported that Branchburg confidentially paid $220,000 to Proscia-Berger to settle her lawsuit.
After learning about the alleged harassment against Proscia-Berger, Auleta said that she called Department Secretary Cassandra Cockburn who also claimed that Crisafulli “had made several inappropriate comments and that he sent harassing text messages to her in the past.” On August 3, 2019, Auleta said she reported Proscia-Berger’s and Cockburn’s complaints to Police Chief David Young who promised the women that he would “be there for them” if they ever felt unsafe at work.
But, Young informed the male officers who Auleta accused of harassment that Auleta was a “whistleblower” against them, according to the lawsuit. Auleta alleged that she “suffered swift retaliation” from Crisafulli and Sergeants Corey Floyd and Manuel Camunas. She said that all three refused to speak or cooperate with her. She said that her calls for backup were ignored when she had pulled over a driver who had active warrants him. She also claimed that police officials filed a “a bogus and retaliatory internal” complaint against her that she was later cleared of.
She said Young reprimanded her for not following the chain of command when that involved her speaking with Crisafulli who allegedly would not speak to her. She also claimed that she was moved to night shift so that a male sergeant, suggested by Crisafulli, could move to day shift.
Auleta said that she was constructively discharged from the police department on April 29, 2019. “After twenty-one years working for Defendant, at the age of 53, [I]could no longer tolerate the danger the Chief and the department had placed [me] in, in retaliation of [me] having complained of sexual harassment,” she said in her lawsuit.
Of the $325,000, Auleta received two payments of $108,333.50, one of which will reported as wages on a W-2 form and the other for “personal physical injury and physical sickness” which will be reported on a 1099. The remaining $108,333 was paid to Auleta’s attorney. Auleta also agreed not to seek employment with Branchburg in the future.
The case is captioned Christine Auleta v. Branchburg Police Department, Docket No. SOM-L-1178-20 and the Auleta’s attorney was Neil Mullin of Montclair. The civil lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.
The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause under which Auleta agreed to keep the settlement agreement secret. 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 employees or officials named in the lawsuit. Auleta’s allegations against police officials are just that–allegations. All that is known for sure is that Branchburg or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Auleta $325,000 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.