ROSELLE, NJ – The borough Department of Public Works (DPW) is a workplace where trucks are strewn with pornography, where men repeatedly engage in sexual harassment, where raunchy, offensive and racist behavior is tolerated and where complaints result in retaliation, says the DPW’s only white woman employee in a new lawsuit.
In the state Superior Court complaint, the woman, Celeste Sitarski, details numerous examples of lascivious, sexually inappropriate and abusive behavior by her male colleagues. The lawsuit names as defendants the borough, the DPW, DPW Superintendent George Phipps, DPW Supervisor Louis Williams and DPW Supervisor Duane Patterson.
Williams, contacted today, said “most of” Sitarski’s allegations are not true. "I don’t seem to understand Ms. Sitarski,” he said. “All I ever did was try to help her as much as possible. Most of her claims are false. I am kind of in shock.”
Sitarski began working for the DPW in January 2012 and was its only white woman employee, says the complaint. She says her “disgust” with the working conditions began early: “In the course of plaintiff’s employment as a laborer, she was required to ride in the borough’s trucks,” says the lawsuit. “From the very beginning … plaintiff noticed many pornographic magazines kept in several borough trucks.”
She says the magazines were not hidden, contending they were “on the dashboard, truck seats, under the seats and were routinely in plain sight” in what “amounted to a pornographic library on several trucks.”
Sitarski says she was “appalled” by the situation and “communicated her disgust” to her DPW supervisors, who did nothing about it.
But the existence of the dirty magazines was the tip of the iceberg, according to Sitarski. The 21-page lawsuit cites numerous examples of lewdness, harassment and intimidation by Sitarski’s male co-workers, including exposure of genitalia, repeated requests of Sitarski that she engage in sex, comments by one worker who said he wanted to “taste” Sitarski’s daughter, threats to Sitarski’s life and scatological insults that included references to Sitarski’s race.
Sitarski contends one of her co-workers, “would openly sexually harass” her. She says the man asked her for dates, told her he was in love with her, said she made his heart beat, promised to lose weight for her, changed his schedule to be with her, referred to himself in texts as “Big Daddy” and told her he wanted to have sex with her, left hearts and love letters on her truck, suggested sharing her with his cousin and more.
The lawsuit says two of Sitarski’s colleagues, in January 2015, “openly made explicit comments about plantiff’s daughter,” mentioned seeing her while she waited for the bus in the morning and commented about “how pretty she was, wondered how old she was, wanted to marry her and wanted to ‘break her in,’” says the complaint.
In another instance, a co-worker tried to “corner” Sitarski in the DPW locker room “and requested that she allow him to come to plaintiff’s house so that he can make her feel good,” says the lawsuit.
The locker room is mentioned elsewhere in the complaint, including an instance where DPW workers “watched and laughed hysterically” while another one “gesturing, bent down and was shooting lotion form a bottle between his legs … while making sounds,” according to Sitarski.
She contends the harassment went beyond the lewd behavior and included blatantly unfair treatment, discrimination and unwarranted reprimands. “Borough refused to fully investigate several incidents where a proper investigation would have easily established plaintiff’s compliance with borough policies,” says the complaint. “Notwithstanding this fact, other African American male drivers that actually violated borough policies were not reprimanded.”
Sitarski says she complained about the hostile work environment but the borough “refused and failed to remedy the harassment” taking place. “Moreover, every time she complained, she was subjected to additional reprimands and rigorous workload,” says the lawsuit.
Filed by Conshohocken, P.A. lawyer Obinna Abara, the lawsuit asserts Sitarski was subjected to sexual harassment, gender discrimination, race discrimination, retaliatory/discriminatory reassignment and retaliation. It seeks compensatory and punitive damages.
Abara added to the complaint a demand that defendants “preserve all physical and electronic information” pertaining to Sitarski’s employment, warning that “failure to do so will result in separate claims for spoliation of evidence.”
Williams contended Sitarski’s claims are news to him.
“This was not ever brought to my attention,” he insisted. “I can’t understand what this is about. Maybe it’s money or something. Me and the other supervisors are in shock. I feel like it was blown out of proportion and now we feel like we are walking on eggshells. All I know is that nothing I did was wrong."