PATERSON, NJ – Facing complaints and lawsuits from six city employees, Paterson may hire a law firm to investigate allegations of discrimination and workplace harassment.
The law firm would be assigned to conduct independent investigations of the employees’ claims. Such investigations, officials said, would protect the city against charges that it did not properly respond to allegations made by municipal employees against coworkers or supervisors.
“The city’s liability will increase exponentially if we do not address the problem,’’ Paterson Corporation Counsel told the City Council during its workshop meeting Tuesday night. Forsman told the council the city currently has six pending cases that require such investigations. When asked by PatersonPress.com to identify those cases, Forsman declined, citing the confidentiality of pending litigation.
Two employees – Brian Sweeney and Monhata Deeb - filed lawsuits earlier this year in which they alleged they were harassed by the city’s community development director, Lanisha Makle. In both suits, the employees alleged that they reported the problems to high ranking city officials and nothing was done about it.
Forsman told the council that the city was particularly vulnerable because it did not have a regular affirmative action officer to whom employees could take their complaints. The city’s part-time affirmative action officer was terminated in 2011 as part of the city’s layoffs.
Business administrator Charles Thomas has said he filled the role of affirmative action officer on an interim basis and was paid overtime for the work. The state Department of Community Affairs has said Thomas should not have received that overtime and should repay the money.
The city in February sought proposals from firms willing to conduct independent investigations of employee complaints and it received responses from seven firms. The city council may award the contract at its meeting on July 17.
The council is considering a $5,000 limit on each investigation.