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New Jersey county contractor fired after harassment suit filed

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal antidiscrimination law. The law bans employer discrimination for members of protected groups and forbids sexual harassment. A Bergen County employer controls a workplace environment, so a company that encourages or permits sexual harassment may be held responsible for harm.

A New Jersey government employee and her husband filed a sexual harassment and gender discrimination lawsuit last month. The defendants named the director of the Ocean County Board of Freeholders and a county contractor. The complaint alleges that the director knew the government contractor sexually harassed the female supervisor.

The 66-year-old contractor was a former government employee who became a county consultant in 2004. The contractor had an office in a county government building and a government email account. After the harassment case was filed, contents of some of the contractor's emails were sought by the media, which set off a reaction by the freeholders.

The county announced it was ending its $150,000-a-year business relationship with the accused contractor. An internal investigation turned up sexually "explicit" emails in the contractor's government computer. The freeholder board voted unanimously to fire the man for violating government rules.

The plaintiffs said that the contractor repeatedly harassed the female supervisor. The married father of two reportedly described sexual fantasies and preferences to the woman, rubbed his body up against hers and, in one instance, planted a kiss upon her. The emails uncovered by the county aren't linked to the lawsuit.

Sexual harassment does not have to involve touching, although unwelcome physical contact also constitutes harassment. Any unwanted sexual advance in the workplace that creates discomfort for the victim may qualify. Employers are obligated to prevent sexual harassment or face possible civil penalties.

Some New Jersey workers aren't sure whether they've been sexual harassed. An employment law attorney helps them find the answer and decide what to do about it.

Source: Asbury Park Press, "'Explicit' emails get Ocean County contractor fired" Erik Larsen, May. 10, 2014

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