Municipal officials agreed to pay $150,000 on Tuesday night to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by a public works employee.
Tyshona Kennedy, a former truck driver, sued in 2018 alleging her supervisor, James Maher, was constantly sexually harassing her at work.
Kennedy alleged Maher subjected her to “severe and pervasive sexual harassment and gender discrimination” from Jun. through Oct. 2017, according to the lawsuit.
Maher allegedly created a “hostile work environment” through his unwanted sexual advances.
“I love me a mean looking woman and you look mean,” Maher allegedly told her on numerous occasions. “You look sexy.”
Maher also reprimanded other male employees by shouting at them whenever any interacted with Kennedy.
“Don’t look at my woman,” he allegedly shouted at other employees. He has asked her to go on dates with him after hours and touched her by grabbing her shoulders and hands, says the lawsuit.
On Sept. 13, 2017, Kennedy was sick, and Maher told her, “I got some Jimmycillin for you, you can take it orally or take it anally, which way do you want it.”
Kennedy told him multiple times his advances were “unwelcome, offensive and embarrassing,” says the lawsuit. Maher did not stop. He smiled and laughed in her face when she told him his acts made her uncomfortable, says the lawsuit.
Maher threatened to decrease her pay if she reported the alleged sexual harassment incidents. She reported the incidents to union representatives, who did not want to be involved.
Maher allegedly made similar remarks in front of other employees in Sept., including now public works director William “Billy” Rodriguez.
The lawsuit stated the city failed to take actions against Maher.
Municipal officials said Maher was moved when the allegations first emerged. He no longer works at Eastside Park. He has been assigned to a different park.
Both employees worked at the Shade Tree Division.
Kennedy reported the alleged conduct to the city’s Affirmative Action Office. An investigation found Maher guilty, says the lawsuit. But no actions were taken against him. Instead, Kennedy was suspended in alleged retaliation for six months without pay for a “minor incident.”
She says after she reported Maher’s conduct, she no longer received overtime assignments.
The lawsuit says Maher frequently showed up to her work area. She claims public works upper management is “clearly unhappy with her” for complaining about the sexual harassment. She claimed as a result of the harassment she suffered emotional, psychological distress, physical injury, shortness of breath, headaches, stress, and anxiety.
Council members initially rejected the settlement in a 3-3 vote.
Councilman Michael Jackson described the alleged treatment Kennedy received as “deplorable” and “absolutely disgusting.”
“This case is very concerning,” said councilman Alex Mendez. He described the treatment Kennedy received as “horrendous.”
Law director Aymen Aboushi told council members taxpayers would have to spend much more money if the case is not settled.
Officials said Kennedy sought $500,000, but the city’s lawyer settled on $150,000. Council members then reconsidered the settlement.
“We don’t have a good shot at winning this. This could hurt us. This could cost more money than the settlement,” said councilman Al Abdelaziz. “I don’t like to gamble with the taxpayers’ hard-earned money.”
“So, where’s the level of accountability? When do we say, ‘Okay, enough is enough,’ and start forcing the administration to put measures in place so things like this don’t happen?” said Jackson. “This is absolutely irresponsible. And I won’t be a part of it.”
Mimms said the city has put in place measures to prevent similar conduct from occurring in public works. Administration officials did not mention any specific measures that were put in place at the meeting.
“The incident took place and they took no actions to correct the problem,” said Mendez blaming mayor Andre Sayegh’s administration. “Now, the taxpayer, we, the homeowners of the city of Paterson, we are the ones that have to come up with $150,000 because of the lack of responsibility and leadership from administration to correct the problem.”
Council members ultimately approved the settlement in a 5-1 vote.