BELLEVILLE, N.J. (CBS) – A town in New Jersey has agreed to pay $235,000 to settle a lawsuit with a former court administrator who claims her co-workers created a “sexually hostile workplace,” saying one of them squirted her with breast milk.
According to the lawsuit obtained by NJ Civil Settlements, Cheryl Jeannette, a 30-year Township of Belleville employee, claims court administrator Yara Acosta and deputy court administrator Roberta Almeida “eagerly flaunted the intimate details of their sexual relationships” during work hours and bragged about openly dating Belleville police officers. Jeannette also claims Almeida told her repeatedly that she was going to perform sexual acts on Jeanette’s young son.
In 2009, Jeannette claims Almeida squirted her with breast milk. She says Almeida was “hardly disciplined” for the incident and was allowed “to serve her discipline at her convenience and, upon returning from her short suspension, transferred to the Code Enforcement Department and subsequently transferred back to the Municipal Court and promoted to Acting Deputy Court Administrator,” according to NJ Civil Settlements.
In 2010, Jeannette claimed that she discovered that Acosta had performed an improper background check on a fellow employee, and she received “far lesser punishment” than Jeannette had received for an “allegedly similar infraction,” according to the lawsuit.
Jeanette claimed the township administration then retaliated against her for assisting in the investigations of Almeida and Acosta by reducing her salary. When Jeanette complained about the salary reduction, she claims she was allegedly told by then Township Manager Kevin M. Esposito she would never be promoted to Municipal Court Administrator if she continued to voice grievances.
In 2013, Jeannette was was immediately suspended without pay after Almeida allegedly “filed a bogus complaint of racial discrimination and harassment against [her].” After an investigation into the incident, Jeannette says she was suspended and demoted.
Jeannette resigned in 2014, saying she “could not continue to work in the hostile environment.”
The township settled with Jeannette for $235,000 and lifetime health benefits in August 2018.
Belleville Mayor Michael Melham told CBS Philly this lawsuit is one of a “staggering” number of lawsuits the town has seen, and “the public has a right to know the details.”
“I do not believe the amount is an accurate representation on what the Township paid out. A bulk of the payout was paid by our insurance. But the real story here is the many lawsuits we are settling and being ordered to pay, the number of them and the amounts we are paying is staggering, it’s well into the millions. The public has a right to know the details. Thankfully those who mismanaged this Township of years and used their positions of authority to settle personal vendettas are gone; my term began only a few short months ago and we are working hard to change the culture in Town Hall. Sadly, stories such as this, from incidents that happened years ago, do not help.”