Manuel Ojeda, former DPW director, sues city over “hostile work environment” | Paterson Times

Manuel Ojeda, former DPW director, sues city over “hostile work environment”


Manuel Ojeda, former director of the city’s public works department, filed a lawsuit against the city alleging Christopher Coke, the city’s current Department of Public Works director, has subjected him to “ridicules” and “derogatory comments,” creating a hostile work environment.

“You and Joey did a fine job fucking this department up,” said Coke allegedly to Ojeda, according to the lawsuit filed in November 2013. The former director alleges that since the new administration came into office his work life changed drastically because of his association with the previous administration.

It started with his demotion in July 2010 when Coke was appointed as the director and Ojeda reduced to assistant director. Working as a sanitation inspector Ojeda’s cleaning route size was doubled without an increase in pay, while others working at the department did not see increase in workload.

Following the administration change Ojeda states he was forced to pick up checks from the director as opposed to receiving it through the normal channels as did other employees. Ojeda had to personally approach Coke to ask for his pay check causing him embarrassment and humiliation, according to the suit.

When the city begin issuing cellphones to employees Ojeda alleges he was given an inferior product, one that prevented him from properly doing his work. “When the DPW recently handed out new city-issued telephones to employees who needed same to perform their duties,” reads the suit, “Ojeda received an outdated telephone which impacted his ability to perform his job.” The former director alleged he received a “cheap outmoded telephone.”

The suit states as a result of the outdated phone the inspector missed calls and it made it difficult for him to execute basic duties.

At one point, according to the suit, Coke attempted to drastically reduce Ojeda’s salary by as much as $40,000. “You’re lucky I didn’t take your money,” a remark attributed to Coke referring to the salary cut for the former director.

Steven Saunders, a department employee, hurled “loud and abusive” words at the former director without Coke issuing any sort of reprimand, according to the suit. When a hearing was held with the director to discuss the matter Saunders, instead of being punished, was rewarded by Coke, according to the suit. “Coke allowed Saunders to spend his entire work day at DPW with his girlfriend accompanying him while riding in a city vehicle,” reads the suit. When Ojeda questioned why Saunders was allowed this special treatment, he was told for “moral support,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit further states that Ojeda was a conspicuous supporter of Jose Torres, former 2-term mayor of the city. “He believed Torres’ policies were good for the City of Paterson and openly expressed himself to that effect,” according to the suit. The suit states much of the hostilities targeted towards the former director was a result of his political opinions.

Ojeda’s suit also mentioned a recent political appointment of Bennie Cook as the assistant director of the department, a position the former held for a time prior to being demoted, stating that he was overlooked for the position despite having all the necessary skills. Cook is an influential Fourth Ward leader, who many say will be able to garner support for the incumbent mayor for his re-election in May.

Ojeda is seeking money for his “economic and compensatory damages, emotional distress and anxiety, and personal humiliation.” The former director also wants lawyer fees and other costs associated with the suit.

The suit also names Charles Thomas, the city’s business administrator; Jeffery Jones, the city’s mayor, stating that both high ranking officials were aware of what was taking place, but did very little to remedy the situation.

The suit states Ojeda attempted to resolve the issue with the city’s Affirmative Action Office which refused to investigate his allegations. The office did not bother to issue any opinion or resolution on the matter, according to the suit.

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