The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights has ordered the owner of a Toms River towing company to pay more than $110,000 to resolve claims that he sexually harassed a female employee to the point that she quit her job.
Attorney General Christopher Porrino and division Director Craig Sashihara announced the award against Neal Prasad, the owner of Statewide Roadside Assistance, on Monday.
The woman, whom the office didn’t identify, is to receive $50,000 for emotional distress and another $7,920 in lost wages, and the division levied an additional $52,350 in fines and penalties to be paid to the state, a release said.
Sashihara’s final decision, which can be appealed, represents an increase from an initial decision from an administrative law judge to award the woman $7,500 for emotional distress, according to the release.
“The conduct in this case goes straight to the core of the sexual harassment discussion taking place in every corner of our nation right now,” Porrino said in a statement. “Upon reporting for work each day, this employee was put in a very difficult and stressful circumstance. She was economically dependent on her job for the sake of her children, and regularly harassed on that job—in the form of overtly sexual comments, inappropriately suggestive invitations and unwanted physical touching—by someone who held sway over both her hourly wage and her continued employment.”
Porrino added that the case should “serve as a message to company owners and workplace supervisors throughout New Jersey,” and vowed to “hold accountable any employer who engages in such conduct, or who tolerates it by others.”
Prasad, who the division said disputed the allegations against him, did not respond to a phone message left at his office.
The employee, who worked as a dispatcher for Statewide, was the focus of daily verbal and physical sexual harassment on the job, the statement said.
Among other things, Prasad was accused of inappropriately rubbing his body against the woman’s body, inappropriately touching her, shouting obscenities at her, and subjecting her to remarks that were “sexual and demeaning” in nature, according to the release.
On one occasion, the employee testified, Prasad followed her into the Statewide facility garage and instructed her to “give the big guy a kiss.” When she refused, he allegedly kissed her on the cheek anyway. Prasad advised her on another occasion, when he observed that she seemed in a good mood, that had her demeanor not been pleasant, he would have bent her over the desk and spanked her, the release said.
The woman quit her job in 2014 after approximately a year of employment. In a complaint she subsequently filed with the division, she alleged hostile work environment and constructive discharge, claiming that workplace conditions were so intolerable that she had no choice but to leave.
In increasing the woman’s award for emotional distress beyond that awarded by the administrative law judge, Sashihara wrote that an increase to $50,000 was warranted given the “severity of the conduct,” prior awards for emotional distress made to other prevailing complainants in hostile work environment cases, and the impact on the victim’s emotional state and family life.
According to the release, the woman testified that she was severely stressed but, as a single mother with three children, had no time to pursue counseling to help cope with the stress.
She claimed that, after quitting her employment at Statewide, she was unable to immediately find another job that provided comparable pay. As a result, she took a lower-paying job, and she and her children were subsequently evicted from their home and forced to live in temporary housing for a time, according to the release.
The woman was initially hired by Prasad in June 2013 at a wage of $10 per hour, and subsequently had her pay increased to $12 per hour, the release said.
Prasad, according to the division, maintained during the investigation that the employee was not sexually harassed, but rather had resigned and concocted harassment allegations because she knew she was going to be fired for repeated lateness.