Piro Zinna Cifelli Paris & Genitempo, LLC Attorneys at law
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New Jersey employees complain of boss' harassment, get punished

Did a senior investigator working for the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) in New Jersey sexually harass a female employee and then, out of apparent fury, pour vitriol on her male co-worker and friend? When they went to their superiors for help, did their superiors engage in "victim blaming" and retaliate?

It certainly seems that way. The allegations came to light due to a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by the victims. According to their complaint, the female victim was a drug and alcohol counselor for the Center for Family Services and the male victim was a DCPP investigator.

The harassment started when the woman's supervisor began to make daily comments about her appearance. After calling her a "babe," he eventually started interrogating her about her breasts and asking about her sexual preferences. At one point, he sent her a text -- which has been entered into evidence -- saying that he wanted her to wear large sweatshirts and parkas to work. When she asked why, he swore at her and told her he "couldn't concentrate" when she was dressed normally.

She continually rebuffed him over an eight-month period. During that time, her supervisor turned his attention to her male friend, the other victim in the case, cursing at him, tossing sexually-based slurs at him and questioning his masculinity.

When the woman complained to her superiors, she was essentially told that she shouldn't spend so much time with the DCCP investigator and she dressed "inappropriately." Then she was transferred to a position she didn't want in another office. Her co-worker suffered similar problems when he complained.

Cases like this show that despite all the headway that's been made in the last few decades, victim blaming is still common. Women are expected to go out of their way to hide their bodies, so they don't attract unwanted attention -- while men aren't expected to control themselves. In addition, it also shows how easy it is for anyone -- male or female -- to fall victim to sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is about power, not actual attraction.

Everyone deserves to feel respected and safe at work. Don't accept workplace harassment as normal. It's never acceptable and you do have legal options.

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