Partners Christian V. McOmber and Peter D. Valenzano represent AnnaMarie Ferrara in a sexual harassment and retaliatory termination claim against Healthcare Services Group, Inc. and HCSG East, LLC. Also named as an individual Defendant in the lawsuit is Howard Lawton, a Dietary Supervisor for HCSG East and Ms. Ferrara’s supervisor during her employment.
The complaint alleges that Ms. Ferrara was subjected to constant sexual harassment during her brief time working as a chef for HCSG East, and the factual assertions set forth herein are a summary of the allegations set forth in the complaint. Specifically, starting on the day he offered Ms. Ferrara a job, Mr. Lawton attempted to force Ms. Ferrara into participating in his sadomasochistic fantasies. Mr. Lawton constantly told Ms. Ferrara he wanted to be her “slave,” referred to her as his “master,” and asked her what she wanted to do to him sexually. Further, Mr. Lawton forced Ms. Ferrara to watch as he searched for various fetish and sex toys on his office computer, telling her he would order items for her branded with the word “MASTER.” Further, Mr. Lawton asked Ms. Ferrara to change into her work uniform in his office so he could watch her undress.
Ms. Ferrara understandably recoiled from Mr. Lawton’s grotesque sexual harassment and made it clear she had no interest in reciprocating and wanted him to stop. In response, Mr. Lawton’s predatory conduct only grew worse, as he started stalking Ms. Ferrara throughout the company’s offices during her breaks, forcing Ms. Ferrara to hide in the kitchen to eat her meals. Mr. Lawton did not restrict his sexual harassment to work hours, either. Mr. Lawton sent Ms. Ferrara explicit text messages at all hours, displaying his genitals and continuing to describe his fantasies of Ms. Ferrara as his sexual “master.” Even after Ms. Ferrara demanded that he stop texting her and advised him that she feared her granddaughter could stumble across his nude photos on her phone, Mr. Lawton refused to cease his perverted behavior.
Lawton’s threatening behavior reached its apex following Ms. Ferrara’s second day of work. In response to Mr. Lawton’s constant badgering about wanting to spend time with Ms. Ferrara outside of work, Ms. Ferrara mentioned that she was taking her granddaughter to a nearby park on the Delaware River later that day and did not wish to meet with him outside work. The next day, Mr. Lawton told Ms. Ferrara that he went to the park and waited for her for an hour and a half. In other words, Mr. Lawton stalked Ms. Ferrara and her young granddaughter. Fortunately, Ms. Ferrara changed her plans and never brought her granddaughter to the park, sparing them both further harassment. However, when Ms. Ferrara told Mr. Lawton his behavior was disturbing and again demanded that he stop, Mr. Lawton simply smiled and said, “you like it, you love it.”
After only three days of work, Ms. Ferrara was forced to call out of work due to her reasonable fear of Mr. Lawton. In response, Mr. Lawton immediately terminated Ms. Ferrara. Making matters worse, Healthcare Services Group, Inc. and HCSG East, LLC did nothing to stop the harassment, fix the hostile work environment, and or punish Mr. Lawton, despite being well aware of what Mr. Lawton was doing. Supervisors for Ms. Ferrara’s employers overheard Mr. Lawton sexually harassing Ms. Ferrara in his office and often observed Mr. Lawton stalking Ms. Ferrara around the company grounds as Ms. Ferrara hid in the kitchen, yet nobody took any action to protect Ms. Ferrara or confront Mr. Lawton. In this way, Ms. Ferrara’s employers maintained and encouraged a dangerously hostile work environment in which female employees like Ms. Ferrara were treated as sexual prey for male supervisors like Mr. Lawton.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Mercer County Superior Court, alleges violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, including sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and retaliation. Ms. Ferrara seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.
“As alleged in the Complaint, HCSG East operated a workplace where a deeply disturbed supervisor was allowed to openly treat Ms. Ferrara as a sexual object for his own enjoyment and pursuit. When our client objected and refused to subject herself – or her young granddaughter – to this predatory conduct, she was immediately terminated in retaliation. We stand united with our client in exposing this outrageous and unlawful behavior.” Peter D. Valenzano, Esq., McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C.