Sexual harassment problems at Roselle DPW

ROSELLE, NJ — Another sexual harassment lawsuit has been filed in state superior court against the borough of Roselle and its Department of Public Works. Celeste Sitarski of Roselle filed a suit last month, charging that a male employee had exposed himself and had urinated in front of her while she was cleaning a bathroom, as well as putting her through what she called a “sham training session” before being allowed to drive department trucks — a training session that male employees never had to complete.

The suit also claims that the department’s trucks are strewn with pornography, that male employees repeatedly engage in sexual harassment, sexually inappropriate and abusive behavior, and racism. The lawsuit also asserts that Sitarski was subjected to gender discrimination, and retaliatory and discriminatory conduct on the part of DPW workers.
The 21-page lawsuit cites numerous examples of lewdness, harassment and intimidation by Sitarski’s male coworkers, including exposure of genitalia, repeated requests of Sitarski that she engage in sex, explicit comments about Sitarski’s daughter, threats to Sitarski’s life and racial insults aimed at Sitarski, who is the only white employee at the department.
The lawsuit names as defendants the borough, the DPW, DPW Superintendent George Phipps, DPW Supervisor Louis Williams and DPW Supervisor Duane Patterson.

Repeated attempts to reach Sitarski were unsuccessful.

The lawsuit comes after a suit was filed six years ago against the department by employee Kheshea Jones, who claimed that she was given jobs not normally assigned to male employees of the department, and stating that an employee had exposed himself to her.
In her 2010 lawsuit, Jones — who was hired as a laborer by the department in 2007 — stated that she had been given menial tasks such as bringing food to department supervisor Louis Williams and cleaning bathrooms — jobs that male employees were never given. In her suit, Jones stated that she was sexually harassed by another DPW employee who had exposed himself in front of her. Jones also complained of her treatment by Williams, who said that he did not believe her story, according to the suit.

As of press time, attempts to reach Williams were unsuccessful.
The case was ultimately resolved when the borough council passed a resolution allocating an amount of $75,000 as part of the settlement towards resolving the suit. Details of the total settlement amount were not released to the public.

Two office workers at the department refused to speak to LocalSource, and a visit to DPW offices yielded a nervous, “no comment,” from one of the employees, who pointedly avoided eye contact.

Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau did not shed much light on the issue. “At this point in time I have heard nothing further regarding the litigation,” said Dansereau. “As I said before we take this very seriously. It is of great importance that all our borough employees have a working environment that they feel safe working in at all times.”

The attorney for Sitarski, Conshohocken, P.A. lawyer Obinna Abara, said that his client is seeking both compensatory and punitive damages. “We are prepared to fully litigate the matter,” Abara said.

Jonathan Jaffe, spokesperson for the borough of Roselle, states that although the borough takes Sitarski’s allegations seriously, there has been a lack of cooperation by Sitarski with borough investigators. “The borough is fully aware of the allegations and has authorized the borough administrator and law department to investigate the matter,” said Jaffe. “The Borough has a comprehensive anti-harassment policy and takes all allegations very seriously. Employees who violate this clear policy will be disciplined and potentially terminated. The borough is eager to investigate the claims made by this employee in her complaint, but to date, she has declined to cooperate with borough investigators,” said Jaffe of Sitarski. “The Borough’s primary interest in this matter is to maintain and ensure a harassment-free workplace, while fully investigating all allegations.”