Car wash faces civil rights suit


A Kearny carwash could be in hot water after the state filed a civil-rights lawsuit against them alleging workplace sexual harassment of an openly lesbian employee that also claims the business fired her after she complained about the harassment to the state’s Division on Civil Rights.

The state’s three-count complaint alleges that Kearny Auto Spa, 946 Passaic Ave., Kearny, subjected the woman to a hostile work environment in the form of “severe and pervasive harassment,” while failing to maintain an anti-harassment policy in the workplace — or take action in response to her repeated internal complaints.

The complaint alleges the woman’s supervisors made crude comments about her sexual orientation on a regular basis while her fellow line employees repeatedly propositioned her for sex.

The complaint also alleges Kearny Auto Spa subjected the woman to “differential treatment” because she was a woman. In particular, the managers reportedly gave her less favorable work assignments and work hours than her male counterparts.

The suit also alleges the woman was unfairly fired on June 19, 2013, just a month after she reported the alleged patterns of harassment she faced, to the Division on Civil Rights.

“This type of pervasive, sexually harassing workplace conduct alleged in the state’s complaint is unacceptable and, more directly on point, unlawful,” New Jersey Attorney General John Jay Hoffman said in a statement. “In any employment setting, workers have a right to do their jobs without being subjected to inappropriate comments, solicitations for sex and other harassment. Furthermore, employers have a responsibility to protect their employees from such harassment. Allegedly firing a worker because she reported the alleged conduct is an obvious abdication of that responsibility.”

According to the complaint, the victim began working at Kearny Auto Spa as a detailer on July 17, 2012. The woman, whose name is being withheld because of the nature of the conduct alleged, was the only female auto detailer employed at Kearny Auto Spa at the time.

Among other allegations, a manager at Kearny Auto Spa is accused of repeatedly asking the victim how she and her partner engaged in sex, while her immediate supervisor allegedly told her on several occasions that he would “take care of” her female partner.

Both men also are accused of regularly asking the woman whether she planned to go home with female friends who brought their cars in for service, and her immediate supervisor is accused of having once directed her to turn around so he could view her buttocks.

Two of the victim’s fellow auto detailers are alleged to have propositioned her for sex on multiple occasions, and one of the victim’s fellow employees is accused of leaving written notes in the workplace expressing his desire for her.

The woman’s immediate supervisor also reportedly told her “men do a better job,” and on one occasion, allegedly forced her to continue doing work that placed pressure on a painful knee because “since you act like man, I’m going to treat you like a man.”

The complaint says the woman was terminated on June 19, 2013, because she left work before her shift was over, and because she had received prior warnings about tardiness and leaving early. The ex-employee denies those allegations, however, and Kearny Auto Spa has no supporting documentation, according to the complaint.

The complaint also asserts Kearny Auto Spa changed its rationale for firing the woman in the midst of the investigation into her allegations — from alleged tardiness and leaving early to a lack of skill at the job. However, the complaint notes Kearny Auto Spa failed to provide records or other evidence to support its claim that she was a substandard employee.

The suit seeks lost wages, damages for mental and emotional distress and any other costs associated with the alleged harassment of the woman, as well as her retaliatory firing. The complaint also seeks punitive damages for the employer’s “willful” violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, imposition of civil penalties in accordance with the LAD statute and other relief.

It is not immediately clear the specific dollar amounts being sought.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.