ELIZABETH, NJ — Two women, an assistant prosecutor and a victim witness coordinator with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, claim in lawsuits that the county’s top law enforcement official discriminated and retaliated against them, each for different reasons.
Attorney Juan C. Fernandez, who represents Susan Gleason and Maria Reynolds-Jerussi, said his clients have been serving important roles at the prosecutor’s office and simply want to work without being harassed. Both of the women’s tenures predate acting Union County Prosecutor Lyndsay V. Ruotolo’s July 2019 swearing in.
“They’re very dedicated,” Fernandez said. “They’re not pleased they have to bring a lawsuit.”
Gleason, the assistant prosecutor, claims that Ruotolo demoted her because of her marriage to the chief of detectives, and deprived her of raises, which the office provided to men in similar roles. Reynolds-Jerussi, the victim witness coordinator, claims that Ruotolo by denying her a specialized desk failed to accommodate her pregnancy, and then retaliated against her because she reported alleged “misuse of Victims of Crime Act ‘VOCA’ grant funded purchases.”
Both the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and the state Attorney General’s Office — which seeks to be dismissed from the litigation — declined to comment, spokespersons for the agencies said. However, in court filings, the state argues that the Attorney General is not responsible for Ruotolo’s “alleged discriminatory conduct” because that conduct “derived from her performance of administrative functions as opposed to law enforcement functions.”
Superior Court Judge Daniel Lindemenn is scheduled to rule March 19 on the Attorney General’s motion to be dismissed from Gleason’s suit, while Judge Thomas Walsh is scheduled to rule April 1 on a motion to dismiss the Attorney General’s Office from Reynolds-Jerussi’s suit.
Gleason claims in her lawsuit that although she had held a supervisory position for approximately 15 years and earned “exceptional employment evaluations,” she received no pay bumps for taking on additional responsibilities, while three younger and less experienced men serving in leadership roles under Ruotolo received raises in the amounts of $50,000, $13,000 and $20,000.
In July or August 2019, Gleason’s complaint claims Ruotolo entered her office unannounced for a meeting in which she told the assistant prosecutor that she “couldn’t have a husband and wife in leadership positions because it would look funny.” Gleason’s husband Vincent Gagliardi, who retired in October 2019, had then served as the chief of detectives.
Gleason further claims that Ruotolo retaliated against her in the summer of 2020.
The lawsuit alleges that after Gleason’s brother-in-law, who represents the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, sent a letter to the state Attorney General critical of Ruotolo in June 2020, the prosecutor’s office demoted Gleason by assigning her to the Elizabeth Police Department, where she was tasked with “screening cases,” a position she had previously supervised.
Ruotolo told Gleason that if she did not accept the demotion and report to the Elizabeth Police Department in person, Ruotolo would accuse her of being insubordinate and the demotion would be permanent, according to the lawsuit.
In a separate suit, Reynolds-Jerussi claims Ruotolo discriminated against her when she came back from maternity leave to her job as a victim witness coordinator in August 2019 — about a month after Ruotolo had been sworn in as prosecutor.
Reynolds-Jerussi claims Ruotolo and her team denied Reynolds-Jerussi a specialized desk she requested, and her former supervisor approved, as a result of her disability. Ruotolo and supervisor Doreen Yanik also “attempted to complicate a very simple issue” when they reassigned the vehicle Reynolds-Jerussi needed to see crime victims, the lawsuit claims.
The prosecutor’s “intentions were to continue to harass [Reynolds-Jerussi] by withholding information and not providing [her] a vehicle,” the complaint says.
According to the complaint, Reynolds-Jerussi had reported the prosecutor’s office’s misuse of Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant-funded purchases office to an outside agency — an agency that confirmed Ruotolo’s actions violated the law and instructed her to comply.
The lawsuit says that Reynolds-Jerussi was further harassed as a direct result of her reporting the violation. The day after Reynolds-Jerussi filed a formal complaint against the prosecutor, Yanik in an email accused her of misusing grant money by driving a VOCA grant-funded vehicle for work.
Reynolds-Jerussi filed a formal complaint against Ruotolo on Feb. 20, 2020, and “almost immediately” after they were advised of the complaints, Ruotolo and Yanik “indicated that they then had complaints” against the plaintiff, the lawsuit says.
In September 2020, Ruotolo issued Reynolds-Jerussi a formal complaint that she inappropriately used a “grant-funded” vehicle, according to the lawsuit, which says the complaint alleged insubordination, unauthorized misuse of county property and conduct unbecoming.
Fernandez said his clients are prepared to go to trial.
“We’re trying to achieve the goal of letting both these individuals go back to work in an environment free of harassment,” he said.
Fernandez added: “Someone should feel free, especially in a public forum where they work, to voice concerns and to address them without repercussion.”
Staff Writer Matt Kadosh contributed reporting.