Kelly Barrett, municipal clerk and administrator in Bradley Beach, is suing the borough and two council members, alleging that she is the victim of sex discrimination.
Oakhurst-based attorney Peter C. Lucas filed the suit on Barrett’s behalf Aug. 19 in the civil division of state Superior Court in Freehold. The complaint asks for payment of unspecified compensatory and punitive damages as well as reimbursement of costs. Barrett is asking for a jury trial.
The Ocean Townshup resident was appointed as administrator on June 13, 2017. The vote to hire her was 3-2, with council members Randy Bonnell and John Weber voting no.
According to the suit, Barrett claims that Bonnell and Weber “sought the appointment of a younger, male candidate, rather than a female in that role.”
The complaint filed with the court says that Barrett was appointed “with near unanimous community support, over the loud objections of Mr. Bonnell and Mr. Weber.”
Barrett’s suit alleges that soon after her appointment, Bonnell “engaged in a course of hostile and harassing conduct directed at Ms. Barrett, designed to drive her from her position.”
The civil complaint accuses Weber of “undermining [Barrett’s] position as borough administrator and municipal clerk, given that a male was not placed in that position.”
The suit says that Bonnell “routinely exhibited overbearing behavior, effectively micromanaging Ms. Barrett by inundating her with e-mails on an almost daily basis related to routine day-to-day operations and her job performance.”
“Mr. Bonnell’s incessant and voluminous e-mail communications resulted in a significantly increased workload for Ms. Barrett, which in turn has resulted in significant emotional distress, including physical manifestations of same, such as chest pains, headaches and lack of sleep,” according to the complaint.
The suit cites an e-mail from Weber to Barrett in which the councilman allegedly says, “I don’t think you are giving me the respect that a member of the council deserves.”
Barrett says she advised Mayor Gary Engelstad in December 2018 that she was “currently working in a hostile work environment.”
“I have come to the conclusion that this constant harassment is based on a legally impermissible basis,” Barrett said in an e-mail to to Engelstad. “I am requesting that you address this situation.”
According to the civil suit, the council in executive session authorized an investigation into Barrett’s complaints. The suit says that Bonnell and Weber were afforded legal represenation, paid for by the borough.
Attorney Nathanya G. Simon of the Scarinci Hollenbeck law firm issued a report on the investigation authorized by the borough. Barrett’s suit filed earlier this month said Simon’s report was “problematic.”
“While Mr. Weber and Mr. Bonnell broadly state concerns related to Ms. Barrett’s alleged poor performance of her job duties, the confidential report does not provide any specific examples,” the civil complaint says.
“Despite a so-called investigation, the hostility and harassing behavior continued as no protocol or corrective action was implemented by the Borough of Bradley Beach, despite a recommendation from said confidential report,” the suit says.
In support of the claim that no action was taken, the complaint says that Bonnell asked Engelstad for information on three high-level employee contracts and only questioned Barrett’s proposed salary increase, not those of the other two workers.
The complaint alleges that the actions of the defendants were “negligent, malicious, intentional, wanton, willful and reckless.” The suit claims that Barrett has “sustained economic loss, humiliation, pain and suffering, and such other damages as will be determined at the time of trial.”
“The defendants’ actions and employment practices are not based on reasonable factors other than sex discrimination within the meaning of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination,” according to the suit.
“Plaintiff demands judgment against defendants for compensatory damages, punitive damages, back pay, front pay, interest, costs of suit, attorneys’ fees, and any such further relief as the court may deem just and equitable,” the complaint says.
Nicole M. Crismale of Lucas’ law office has been named trial counsel for Barrett.