Lawsuit, Sexual Assault, racial bias within NJ AG's Office

Lawsuit: Sexual assault, racial bias within NJ AG's Office

Photo by Dmitry Rukhlenko/DeviantArt

A New Jersey Department of Criminal Justice supervisor allegedly sexually assaulted a female fraud inspector within his department on a Sea Girt beach, according to a civil lawsuit filed in state Superior Court.

The incident occurred in August 2009 when the alleged victim and her supervisor, Harry Polihrom, attended a seminar conducted by the State Police Academy held on the beach.

The lawsuit alleges Polihrom began engaging in sexual harassment and the instructor of the seminar, named as “John Doe” in the suit, did nothing to stop it.

“Defendant Polihrom picked plaintiff up, grabbing her with one hand around her crotch and over her vagina, and the other gripping her breast, with the apparent purpose of throwing her into the surf,” the lawsuit states, adding previous to the incident the relationship between the two was “unremarkable.” “Plaintiff objected to this loudly and struggled to get away from Polihrom, while he continued to sexually assault and harass her.”

When Polihrom grabbed the alleged victim, her sanitary napkin dislodged, leaving the plaintiff’s light pants to be stained with menstrual blood, adding to the woman’s “embarrassment and humiliation,” according to the lawsuit.

Polihrom did not return a phone call for comment.

A spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the Department of Criminal Justice, declined comment, citing the pending litigation.

Ramsey-based attorney Lydia B. Cotz, who is representing the Hispanic woman, said both her client and Polihrom have since been moved from the Department of Criminal Justice and are currently employed by the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance.

Cotz added Polihrom is indirectly involved as her supervisor.

“When Mr. Polihrom groped my client’s breast and vagina, you can be sure he was not helping her to find her library card,” Cotz said. “The fact that Mr. Polihrom continues to work within the same room as (my client) is further proof that the New Jersey Attorney General’s office has condoned a hostile working environment and is a ratification of his egregious conduct.”

Polihrom, who is listed with a managerial position at the Department of Banking and Insurance, earned a salary of $99,943 in 2012, according to online records.

According to the court documents, the alleged victim did tell people about the beach incident, but did not immediately make a complaint.

Five months after the alleged sexual assault occurred, the plaintiff was asked to participate in a dangerous undercover assignment, court records indicate.

The officer in charge of that investigation allegedly called Polihrom to request his permission.

“On speakerphone, Polihrom was heard to say ‘her work ethic is (expletive) up. You know how those Spanish people are,’” according to the lawsuit.

That conversation was heard by two other investigators, who each reported it, the lawsuit states.

The alleged victim then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity office, and in February an investigation had started, according to court documents.

“After plaintiff complained about Polihrom to the EEO, he began to pressure her immediate supervisor, Greg Wallack, to lower her evaluation,” the lawsuit states. “Despite the reports of (the two investigators), the EEO found plaintiff’s complaints unsubstantiated.”

Cotz is outlining four counts in the suit, which allege her client is forced to work in a sexually hostile environment; the sexual harassment was aided and abetted; racial bias; and the racial bias was aided and abetted.

Former Attorney General Paula Dow, the instructor of the seminar, Polihrom, and the State of New Jersey are all named in the suit.

The alleged victim is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, counsel fees and costs associated with the suit.

The civil complaint is scheduled to be heard Monday in New Brunswick.

This is the second lawsuit disclosed in as many months against the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office with allegations of sexual harassment.

Last month, The Trentonian reported a sergeant with the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office filed a whistleblower lawsuit against his employer for retaliation, which he claims occurred after he reported sexual harassment allegations of another officer in an internal affairs investigation.

In that lawsuit, First Deputy Chief of Detectives Allan Buecker was alleged to seek “paybacks for those who went against” the lieutenant accused of sexual harassment. He also failed to properly file the sexual harassment complaint against the lieutenant, according to the criminal complaint.

The sergeant, who reported the complaint to Buecker, was allegedly demoted after bringing the allegations to him.