Assistant business administrator Jennifer Hirschmanner has filed a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court alleging current and former municipal officials harassed, mistreated, and discriminated against her.
Hirschmanner, who is white, cited several alleged incidents in the lawsuit filed last Tuesday.
In Nov. 2017, former interim mayor Jane Williams-Warren signed pending state hiring waivers for a number of employees. She signed for two African-American employees, but refused to sign for Hirschmanner, according to the 23-page complaint.
Hirschmanner was told the ex-mayor had reservations about the part-time assistant business administrator post being changed to a full-time position. The lawsuit claims the other two waivers were for full-time positions that were previously part-time.
On Jan. 16, 2018, Hirschmanner was directed to attend a City Council meeting while former business administrator Nellie Pou was out on medical leave. She claims council members “publicly harassed and humiliated” her in the televised meeting. Some referred to her as a “secretary.”
Hirschmanner complained to the then-business administrator. She claims Williams-Warrant told her she was “disappointed” in the way council members treated her.
On Feb. 7, 2018, the City Council held an executive session to discuss Hirschmanner’s appointment to the assistant business administrator post. She claims she could hear the discussion in the closed-door meeting from the hallway.
She claims she heard former councilman Kenneth Morris say, “Let’s not forget that she is not black or brown.”
Morris rejected Hirschmanner’s allegations. He described the allegations as “false” and “patently untrue.”
“I’m disappointed that Ms. Hirschmanner would look to impugn my reputation for her own personal gains,” said Morris. He urged municipal officials to fight the case in court to avoid setting a bad precedent for other employees to follow.
Morris said he may bring a potential defamation suit against Hirschmanner.
On Mar. 5, 2018, Hirschmanner filed a complaint with the city’s Affirmative Action Office. An attorney collected her statement, supporting documents, and videotapes to investigate the matter. She was told there was “no fault” in the council members’ conduct because Hirschmanner had been “smiling on the video,” according to the lawsuit.
On Mar. 8, 2018, councilman Michael Jackson allegedly questioned her qualification and stated she “does not even live here,” alleges the suit. She sent a letter to the council on Mar. 15, 2018 requesting Jackson cease making such comments. She filed a complaint with the Affirmative Action officer, but no actions were taken, says the suit.
Jackson accused her of lying about her residency on Tuesday morning. He said she also got her son a job in the city. Her son, Dylan Hirschmanner, was hired at public works last year.
On Jun. 29, 2018, Williams-Warren terminated her acting assistant business administrator title, says the suit. After mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration took the reins at City Hall, Hirschmanner requested a meeting with the new business administrator, Vaughn McKoy, and asked she be permanently appointed to the post.
McKoy wanted six months to review and evaluate her work before making a final decision. She agreed with the proposal which was presented to a labor union that suggested a three-month review period.
On Sept. 24, 2018, Hirschmanner’s name came up again at a City Council meeting. She alleges at that meeting, council president Maritza Davila said Hirschmanner lacked a degree and someone with a college degree should be offered the assistant business administrator job. Hirschmanner complained to personnel director Michele Rawls.
On Nov. 1, 2018, Hirschmanner met with the business administrator and personnel director to discuss her three-month review. McKoy told her he was “extremely happy” with her performance and that she would be appointed as assistant business administrator.
On Jan. 22, 2019, Hirschmanner was permanently appointed to the assistant business administrator post. There were two other people competing for the same job, including assistant budget officer Lydia Robles, also known as Lydia Rosario.
On Apr 3, 2019, Hirschmanner received papers Robles was filing a complaint with the New Jersey Civil Service Commission to overturn her appointment. Rosario argued Hirschmanner lacked a college degree and does not meet the city’s residency requirement for the job.
On Apr. 15, 2019, Rosario allegedly sent a letter to council members alleging a “non-working relationship” between Sayegh and Hirschmanner, according to the lawsuit. Robles alleged Hirschmanner was awarded the assistant business administrator job for engaging in a “non-working relationship” with the mayor, says the suit.
Sayegh did not respond to a message for comment.
Hirschmanner’s suit states Robles’ alleged assertion is malicious and a “fabricated” lie. She complained to the business administrator, but no actions were taken, the suit says. She claims instead she was subjected to retaliation. She claims business administrator McKoy wanted to relocate her elsewhere. She was later relocated to the personnel office in Dec. 2019.
Hirschmanner alleges Rosario has allegedly reported to work “many times under the influence and smelling like marijuana,” according to the lawsuit.
Robles said Hirschmanner’s allegations — the non-working relationship and coming to work under the influence of pot — are “absolutely 100-percent” false. Her letter made no mention of any non-working relationships, she said.
“I’m going to have to file a lawsuit against her,” said Robles. She said Hirschmanner’s assertions are defamatory and slanderous.
Robles said Hirschmanner is allegedly retaliating against her for filing an appeal with the state over the assistant business administrator job.
On Aug. 7, 2019, Hirschmanner attended a workshop meeting of the council. She was questioned by councilman William McKoy about items on the agenda. She did not have the information readily available, but said could provide it the next morning.
McKoy allegedly called her a “seat warmer” and told he she was unprepared for the meeting. She claimed two other officials tried to provide the information, but were blocked. Jackson remarked the assistant business administrator should have had the information readily available, says the suit.
Hirschmanner had a “severe anxiety attack” as a result and excused herself to the bathroom to regain her composure. She called the mayor and told him she was having an anxiety attack. Sayegh told her to stay in the restroom as long as she needed and return to the meeting. She returned to the meeting as a resident was complaining about flooding in a part of the city. She had her chair turned as she wiped tears. Davila told her to “turn around and take notes,” alleges the lawsuit.
Hirschmanner claims taking notes for council members is a secretarial function. It’s common for council presidents to tell whomever is setting in the business administrator’s chair to take note of problems residents bring up at the meetings. Her anxiety reached a “breaking point” after Davila’s remark. She became physically ill and excused herself. She called Sayegh again and he told her to leave the meeting. She took sick leave the next two days due to “severe anxiety and heart palpitation,” according to the suit.
Hirschmanner filed more complaints with the city. She also filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint. She alleges after filing the complaint Robles and business administrator McKoy subjected her to “unrelenting harassment.” She alleges the business administrator threatened to change her job position and assign her duties to Rosario.
Payroll records show Hirschmanner was first hired as a clerk in 2009 for $35,000. She climbed up the ranks over the years to executive assistant and ultimately assistant business administrator. Her salary is $100,000 as of Jan. 2020.
Hirschmanner is seeking an unspecified amount in damages and legal expenses.