For Immediate Release
Thursday, April 05, 2012
Court Rules in Favor of County in Sexual Harassment Case
On April 4, 2012, an Atlantic County Superior Court civil jury delivered a verdict in favor of the County of Atlantic following an eight week trial in a case of alleged sexual harassment. The jury deliberated less than one hour before announcing its verdict. The jury found that any conduct attributable to the plaintiff’s harasser did not occur because of her gender or alleged perceived sexual orientation.
Plaintiff Jan Van Holt, who was represented by attorney Clifford Van Syoc, is a former employee of the county’s Adult Protective Services unit. The attorneys filed suit on her behalf in July 2008 in a four count complaint alleging that she was the victim of sexual harassment and had her Constitutional rights violated by the actions of a male coworker. Van Holt’s complaint alleged that these activities occurred between her date of hire in 2003 and the end of 2006. Her complaint also alleged that the county failed to conduct an adequate investigation and failed to maintain adequate policies and procedures to deal with harassment.
The county, which was represented by attorneys Ed Jacobs and Art Murray, denied the allegations from the outset. The county’s attorneys were successful in having three of the four count complaint dismissed on summary judgment and the case proceeded to trial on the issue of alleged sexual harassment in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The county presented evidence that it maintained appropriate anti-harassment policies and had conducted a thorough investigation of plaintiff’s complaints.
The trial commenced on February 6, 2012 before Atlantic County Superior Court Judge James Isman and involved testimony from 18 witnesses over the eight week period.
According to the county defense attorney, the only two witnesses who testified on behalf of Van Holt were two female county employees who also have pending lawsuits against the county.
“The swift and decisive verdict supports Atlantic County’s position to vigorously defend itself against frivolous and unmeritorious claims that too often prove costly to our taxpayers,” stated County Executive Dennis Levinson.
Levinson added that although the county prevailed in the lawsuit and neither plaintiff nor her attorneys will be awarded any taxpayer funds, there is still a cost.
“In order to defend the county against this frivolous lawsuit we had to pay outside counsel and bear the costs associated with an eight week trial. In the end the taxpayer still loses. There will always be disgruntled employees and lawyers willing to take their case regardless of merit as long as fee shifting is permitted,” Levinson said.
Levinson explained that if the plaintiff, Van Holt, was awarded one dollar by the jury, the taxpayer would be responsible for paying her attorney’s fees which could have amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“That is why the attorneys hope to ‘settle’ these cases out of court regardless of their merit,” said Levinson, “thereby contributing to New Jersey’s distinction as having the highest taxes in the nation.”