Three Howell Township employees have filed a lawsuit in Monmouth County Superior Court claiming discrimination and a hostile work environment against the township, the township municipal court, Court Administrator Dominick Pondaco and others.
The three women, Angela Martino, Donna Ennas and Donna Belton, had all worked in the municipal court office prior to the lawsuit being filed and have since transferred to other departments in the township.
No specific amount of money is named in the complaint but the employees' attorney, Rosemarie Arnold, said they are seeking monetary damages for their emotional distress and other medical issues.
"They want their jobs back, they want him to not be their supervisor and they want all their lost pay," Arnold said. "They've all become physically and emotionally ill because they've been dealing with this for years. These aren't young women who can hold their own. These are older women who need their jobs and need their benefits and don't have the werewithal to stand up to this bully."
The women have accused Pondaco of referring to them as "idiots," "monkeys" and a slur word for female anatomy. According to the complaint, provided by the plaintiffs, Pondaco allegedly engaged in a pattern of "mentally abusive, sexually abusive, sexually harassing and offensive behavior."
When reached at his office Pondaco directed all questions to Township Manager Helene Schlegel.
"The Township has taken all appropriate and necessary actions in this matter," Schlegel said. "Our lawyers will vigorously defend these unfounded allegations."
The women allege that Pondaco reprimanded Martino for taking maternity leave and told Ennas, in reference to her age, that she was "getting up there" and that she was "going to die in that chair."
Because of these actions the plaintiffs said, "This improper, illegal, intentional, extraordinary despicable behavior created an openly hostile work environment." The complaint then goes on to list several examples of alleged sexual, hostile and anti-semitic comments made by Pondaco about the plaintiffs and others.
According to Arnold, the women repeatedly asked for help from township officials.
The complaint says that the plaintiffs eventually went to the Howell Township Police Department. During an investigation by the police and township into the women's claims, Pondaco was put on paid administrative leave, the complaint states.
The plaintiffs claim they were told that, "they would be disciplined and/or fired if they did not give personal face to face statements," on dates assigned by the township when they were not available, according to the complaint. The were also allegedly told union representatives or personal attorneys could not appear with them.
Arnold said her clients were prepared to give their statements with an attorney present, but the complaint said the defendants "refused to take such statements and instead retaliated and punished plaintiffs by terminating their investigation, reinstating Defendant Pondaco to his supervisory position and transferring Plaintiffs to different departments."
The complaint claims that the three women believe the conduct by Pondaco and "ratified by defendants," including the township and the court, "is ongoing and continuous," leading them to believe they would be fired or have their working conditions changed if they complained.
Arnold said this has been a difficult process for her clients. "What makes this so bad is that they constantly asked for help," she said. Had their concerns been addressed, Arnold said, the issue would not have gotten this far.
The case has been assigned to Judge Joseph P. Quinn.