Essex County’s township responded to its chief financial officer’s lawsuit by arguing that “boorish” workplace behavior does not violate state whistleblower statutes that shield employees from retaliation.
Montclair chief financial officer Padmaja Rao claims in court filings that Township Administrator Timothy Stafford verbally abused, intimidated, and routinely displayed “demeaning and disparaging conduct” against her and other female department heads.
After discovering Montclair’s government weaknesses, Rao believes Stafford and others in the administration retaliated against her. The suit claims Rao was fired from the township’s finance committee on Sept. 26.
Rao claims that her Montclair workplace treatment violates the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Act and the state’s Law Against Discrimination.
On Nov. 23, Montclair’s attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the claim, arguing that New Jersey’s CEPA whistleblower protections do not cover Rao’s unprofessional behavior.
“While the plaintiff alleges accusations of workplace disagreements that may even constitute unprofessional conduct or boorish behavior, it simply is not actionable under CEPA or LAD,” the motion argues.
The claim states that “prejudiced and boorish” language or “obnoxious, harsh, and un-American” behavior is insufficient “adverse employment action” under CEPA.
Rao’s attorney, Roosevelt Nesmith, said Wednesday that his client’s removal from Montclair’s finance committee represents an adverse employment action, even if he remains the township’s chief financial officer.
Nesmith said he will fiercely challenge the dismissal. “Removing Ms. Rao from the finance committee was an adverse employment action that harmed her CFO duties.”
On Jan. 20, 2023, Essex County Superior Court will hear the request to dismiss.
Juliet G. Lee, the township’s former deputy clerk, filed a similar case against Stafford and the township two weeks after Rao did, alleging discrimination and maltreatment drove her to quit.
“Stafford subjected Lee to verbal abuse, humiliation, and harassment during her tenure,” the Oct. 28 suit claims.
Lee’s lawsuit alleges that she lost “statutory obligations” to another employee, such as the CFO.
Stafford is accused of undermining Lee’s employment obligations, which harmed her physical and emotional health.
Stafford ignored calls and emails about the litigation.
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Montclair’s lawyers didn’t respond to lawsuit inquiries.