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Woman files sexual harassment suit against district Mayor

For many people, gender harassment in the workplace is a grim reality. Sometimes co-workers can be engage in inappropriate behavior, but all too often, it is employers. A woman previously employed by a New Jersey district mayor has filed a claim of sexual harassment against him, after he allegedly tried to make her perform sexual acts and discriminated against her in the workplace.

The 22-page lawsuit claims that 75-year-old Mayor Robert Bowser of East Orange, New Jersey, harassed the former research assistant while she worked for him in 2008. The filing contains six counts relating to the mayor's alleged poor behavior. The suit alleges that he began to pursue her in 2008, despite the fact that the she objected. His "outrageous" actions continued, and began to escalate.

The suit claims that Mayor Bowser would give the woman alcohol in an attempt to get her drunk. He then would demand that she perform sexual acts on him. He would often try to get the woman to work weekends, and would say that he needed help with speeches he was writing. Bowser would sometimes visit her home uninvited, and send her cards with an intimate note and cash inside. He even allegedly tried to control how she dressed; he asked her to come to work in a black dress on more than one occasion.

According to the suit, Bowser's actions were in part the result of gender discrimination, and that his behavior made the working environment hostile. The woman was afraid, based on the mayor's past actions, that she would lose her job if she did not comply with his requests. The woman was unable to leave her job, as she depended on the salary. However, she finally complained to the city authorities, and was transferred to a new position in the municipal court.

The woman's attorney states that New Jersey is a "forward-looking state", and that state laws exist to keep employees safe from incidents like this. He also said that no one should have to choose between giving in to sexual requests from an employer and leaving their job, especially when they cannot afford to do so. Both of these points are undeniably true. People who have experienced workplace harassment may find it helpful to meet with a legal advocate who can walk them through their options and inform them of their rights.

Source: New Jersey Local News, "East Orange mayor accused of sexual discrimination, former research assistant files lawsuit," Richard Khavkine, July 23, 2011

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