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Civil Rights Agency Says EMT Worker Was Probably Sexually Harassed

Civil Rights Agency Says EMT Worker Was Probably Sexually Harassed

By David Gialanella

New Jersey Law Journal

October 28, 2010

A rescue-squad technician was probably subjected to sexual harassment by her superiors and fired as a result of her objection, the state’s civil rights agency said Thursday.

The Division on Civil Rights said it had enough evidence for a finding of probable cause that the Avenel-Colonia First Aid Squad and two senior officers for mistreated the female recruit.

“A particularly troubling aspect of this case is the apparent lack of recourse for employees who felt harassed,” Division Director Chinh Le said in announcing the decision. “The leaders to whom such conduct would normally be reported were the ones allegedly engaged in the harassing conduct.”

The conduct, if found true, would mean violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-12, possibly leading to compensatory and injunctive relief.

Jennifer Braun of South Amboy, began working at the squad as a paid emergency medical technician in December 2008, not long after graduating from high school. Braun alleged that during her first month on the job, her supervisors were helpful and the work experience was satisfactory.

After that, the downtime conversation turned more and more lewd. Captain Carmen Parisio and Assistant Captain Wayne Tasaki badgered her with sexually suggestive questions and comments, which continued until her dismissal on April 12, 2009, she claimed.

Braun alleged during a fact-finding conference that Parisio and Tasaki asked questions about her sexual preferences, the nature of her physical relationship with her boyfriend and her breast size.

In one incident, while in a darkened bunk room on an overnight shift, Tasaki made a remark to Braun about the size of his genitals, Braun claimed.

In another incident, Parisio, in Braun’s presence, called someone he said was an ex-girlfriend, activated his phone’s speaker, asked questions about his sexual prowess to the person on the other line and encouraged Braun to ask him questions about his sexual techniques. Braun told Parisio she was not interested in his private life, according to Le. Braun used her cell phone to make an audio recording of the exchange, which she played for the investigator.

According to the DCR findings, Braun was offended by the remarks but often ignored them or verbally brushed them off, and she was not aware of anyone to whom she could report the incidents, because Parisio and Tasaki — members of the squad’s executive board — were her supervisors.

Parisio and Tasaki denied any sexual harassment took place and asserted that Braun’s termination stemmed from a pair of three-month-old incident reports. One cited her for being unable to find an address in a map book on an emergency call. The other said she used deficient lifting techniques when handling a stretcher. Parisio said he had to verbally reprimand Braun on at least two other occasions.

Six former squad employees interviewed during the conference confirmed that sexually suggestive talk was the norm with Parisio and Tasaki, and a number of employees also said that the types of transgressions for which Braun was cited generally would not lead to disciplinary action, the DCR said.

A finding of probable cause means the state has concluded its preliminary investigation and has determined there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonable suspicion that the LAD was violated.

The parties will be scheduled for a meeting before a conciliator in an attempt to reach a settlement. If they reach no accord, the matter will be referred to an administrative law judge. The judge’s decision is subject to review by Le and then is appealable to the Appellate Division.

Statutorily, the squad, Parisio and Tasaki each could be subject to fines of up to $10,000 as first-time violators of the antidiscrimination law.

Le says he is not aware of the Avenel-Colonia First Aid Squad having any prior Law Against Discrimination violations.

The squad is no longer in operation: Earlier this month, the Woodbridge Township Council voted to amend the first-aid districting ordinance, which would eliminate the unit.

Lee Moore, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, says the closing of the squad would not hinder the conciliation process.

Lavinia Lee Mears of Stein, McGuire, Pantages & Gigl in Livingston, who represents the squad, declines comment.

Categories: Civil Rights, Law, Litigation
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