Black woman demoted for anti-gay bias loses own discrimination suit against NJ
A former high-ranking state official has lost a discrimination lawsuit against the state after she was demoted for making bigoted comments against gay and Jewish employees.
Sherie Jenkins, who lost her assistant director position at the Department of Labor in 2009, sued the state a year later claiming she was discriminated against because she was a light-skinned, blond-haired black woman with diabetes and a shoulder injury.
She said she worked in a hostile environment because her boss made her work grueling hours. One of the examples of the alleged hostility included a time her boss made her and others wait two minutes in a meeting before allowing them to take a lunch break.
A trial judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2014. And a three-judge appellate panel on Friday denied her bid to reinstate the claim.
Jenkins was hired in 1991 and eventually was promoted to assistant director in 2008. Along the way, however, numerous employees complained about her treatment of them. Workers filed a complaint against her with the Division of Equal Employment Opportunity, alleging:
— She called a male employee by a gay slur.
— She used the phrase "pink panties" to disparage male employees.
— She called an employee a "fu----g Jew."
— She made fun of employees' accents and mocked an employee's national origin by saying, "What, are we on Caribbean time?"
— During a conference call, she said the department should hire Americans over foreigners.
The EEO investigator upheld the charges against Jenkins, even though she denied the allegations and claimed that the investigator was biased because he was gay and Jewish.
The trial judge found that Jenkins' boss, also a black woman, did not single out Jenkins for her gender or race because she was a tough and demanding boss of everyone.
The judge also found no evidence that similarly situated men in the department were paid more than Jenkins.
When it comes to lawsuits, the state Law Against Discrimination requires that plaintiffs demonstrate that they were mistreated based on their race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, faith, disability or family status, and that the discrimination was pervasive enough that a reasonable person would consider the working environment hostile.
The appellate decision on Friday upheld the judge's finding that her treatment did not rise to that level, saying that the law is not meant to be a "general civility code for conduct."
"A hostile work environment discrimination claim cannot be established by epithets or comments which are merely offensive," the appellate judges said. "Neither rude and uncivil behavior nor offensive comments alone crate hostile work environment under [the law.]"
"Moreover, a claim that a supervisor is demanding of his or her subordinate is insufficient to prove a hostile work environment," they added.
"While the treatment by plaintiff's supervisor may gave been unpleasant, neither uncivil behavior, offensive comments, nor a demanding supervisor are sufficient to prove a hostile work environment."
Pension records show Jenkins earns a salary of $98,000.
She was represented by attorney Eric V. Kleiner, who did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.