Morristown employee sues town, says it failed to stop sexual harassment

Flag at half mast outside Morristown Town Hall on Sept. 11, 2012. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Flag at half mast outside Morristown Town Hall on Sept. 11, 2012. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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A Morristown municipal employee who claims she was stalked by her boss is suing the town for not acting swiftly and forcefully to stop the man’s alleged advances.

The lawsuit also suggests a coverup, claiming a police officer destroyed evidence.

Martha Betancourt was an administrative assistant to then-Zoning Officer John Fugger in 2009, when she says he began a campaign of sexual harassment that included staring at her, following and calling her “incessantly” after work, and even calling her relatives.

She contends the harassment continued even after Fugger was allowed to retire in March 2013.

Flag at half mast outside Morristown Town Hall on Sept. 11, 2012. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Town Hall, in 2012. File photo by Kevin Coughlin

“This is a matter of a little too little, a little too late,” said Betancourt’s attorney, Claudia Reis. Despite her client’s pleas to the Mayor and others in town hall, “they did nothing to protect her. It made her feel very vulnerable,” Reis said.

“I haven’t read it,” Mayor Dougherty said when asked about lawsuit, on Thursday night. “Everybody has the right to go through the process. She [Betancourt] is exercising her right.”

Town Business Administrator Michael Rogers and town Attorney Vij Pawar also said they had not yet seen the legal papers and could not comment on them.

Fugger was found not guilty of disorderly conduct, a criminal charge, in the autumn of 2012 by Long Hill Municipal Judge James Bride, who heard testimony by Betancourt and Fugger during a day-long trial.

“The judge found they had a relationship, and they had good days and bad days,” said Fugger’s lawyer, Peter Gilbreth.

Fugger, who is not named in the lawsuit, cited the criminal case: “I was found not guilty and acquitted of the charge of harassment.”

‘BEGGED FOR HELP’

The town suspended Fugger for two weeks in 2010, after he allegedly made insinuations and accusations in calls to Betancourt’s husband and sister.

But the harassment soon resumed, and continued through 2013, according to the lawsuit, first reported by The Daily Record.

Fugger allegedly tailed Betancourt in his car on the pretense that he was making housing inspections. Calls to her cell phone kept coming, too, at all hours, the suit maintains.

When Betancourt “begged” the Mayor for help, in early 2012, she was called into his office to make a formal statement.  At that point, the Mayor’s “behavior and attitude … changed” towards her, the legal papers say.

On an October night in 2012, Fugger allegedly left 13 voice mails for Betancourt, accusing her of deceit and marital infidelity, among other things.  She filed complaints with the town Equal Employment Office and the police, triggering an investigation.

In January 2013, the town announced that Fugger would be allowed to retire from his $83,469  job in March.

That date enabled him to reach the 25-year mark in town hall–entitling him to lifetime health benefits. Although Fugger was suspended without pay, he was compensated for unused sick days and vacation time, according to his lawyer.

‘NAKED MAN,’ EMOTIONAL DISTRESS

In a statement to the media meant “to further embarrass and humiliate” Betancourt, according to the lawsuit, the town in January 2013 claimed that she had failed to take “remedial measures” to prevent harassment, and that the town could not investigate the matter because she had failed to cooperate.

That statement did not identify Betancourt by name, but co-workers and some residents were aware of the situation and knew it was her, the lawsuit says.

Although a municipal judge banned Fugger from any contact with Betancourt or her family, she allegedly received a voice message at work in July 2013 from someone police believed to be Fugger, stating that a naked man was in her shower.

The lawsuit claims that a police officer later erased that call, deleting it from Betancourt’s work phone.  The suit does not elaborate on that allegation.

Despite Betancourt’s concern for her safety, the town refused to investigate further, the suit says.

Betancourt seeks damages from the town, which she contends discriminated against her as a woman, in ways “severe and pervasive” that created a “hostile work environment.”  This harmed her reputation, career and finances, while inflicting “emotional distress,” the lawsuit asserts.

It’s not the first time sexual harassment charges have rocked town hall.

In 2005, under a prior administration, a former town secretary sued the town and a former administrator for sexual harassment, alleging she was continually exposed to pornography in the office.

The town’s insurance companies paid that woman nearly $1 million in 2009 to settle the federal suit.

 

 

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