NJ prosecutor retaliated after giving employee CDs with inappropriate photos, lawsuit says
Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia Valdes retaliated against an employee after he declined to process photos of "Valdes and her husband in various stages of undress," according to a new lawsuit.
Ferrara Law Group filed the lawsuit on behalf of Clifton residents Henry Hernandez in Passaic County court last week. Hernandez, 50, has been a media specialist at the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office for more than a decade.
Valdes is accused of giving CDs to Hernandez with various images in 2010, then again in 2014. The lawsuit says she requested that he process the images on the disks.
In the first instance, court filings state Hernandez was surprised to find "inappropriate" photos of Valdes on the disk.
"When he opened the disc on his computer, Plaintiff saw photographs of Valdes
and her husband in various stages of undress," the lawsuit states. "Hernandez did not believe that it was appropriate for him to view these materials and handed the disc back to Valdes and told her that he could not process it."
Then in 2014, the suit says Valdes again gave him a CD with photos for processing. It adds that this time she gave Hernandez an advanced warning of "personal items" on the disc.
Hernandez gave this disc back to Valdes before reviewing its contents. After this second refusal, Valdes and the PCPO staff started treating him differently, according to the lawsuit.
More than a decade ago, Hernandez's supervisors called him "superman" for his performance at work. But starting in 2014, he suddenly began to feel “frozen out” at work.
The lawsuit does not state which photos Valdes did want to be processed or why.
The tensions came to a head as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the civil complaint. Hernandez, a type 1 diabetic with heart issues, requested plastic barriers for his unit like others within the office in early 2020.
But Chief of County Investigators Christopher Drelich is accused of ignoring the request for over a year. When Hernandez followed up, the lawsuit says Drelich instead put a sign on his door banning all visitors without prior approval.
Hernandez's unit contracted COVID-19 in December 2021, court filings state, while the barriers were not installed until Feb. 2022.
In addition, Hernandez's lawsuit claims he was not paid for working from home on weekends throughout the pandemic. The PCPO is accused of not addressing the matter until July 2021 when it agreed to pay him, with an exception.
PCPO supervisors "decided that they would deduct one hour per day worked at home from Plaintiff’s compensation not due to any specific allegations of Plaintiff performing personal work on PCPO time, but rather the generic assumption that he was doing so," according to court documents.
The lawsuit has been transferred from Passaic County to Bergen County to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.