New Details Surface in Clerk's Office Dispute
Legal fights pit the clerk's employees against the former clerk and both against town leaders
More information is surfacing in the mysterious ending of Township Clerk Elesha Johnson's employment. Four employees in the clerk's office—including one who retired over the matter—say Johnson created a hostile workplace for them. In response, they are taking legal action against town leadership and the former clerk.
Attorney Gina Mendola Longarzo said she has filed a tort claim, in essence a motion of intent to sue for $4 million, in the names of former employee Tonae Bettelli and current staffers Cara Fox, Leslie Miller and Janet Zorsky.
Among those named as defendants in the action are Mayor James Barberio, Personnel Director Hank Sunyak, Business Administrator Jasmine Lim, the five Town Council members and Johnson.
Longarzo told Patch that trouble started shortly after Johnson took over for her veteran predecessor, Judith Silver, last Aug. 1.
Almost immediately, said Longarzo, clerk employees reported that Johnson made racial, sexual and religious comments that made them feel uncomfortable in the office.
Johnson "made some inappropriate comments about whether she had feelings for... Ms. Betelli," the attorney said, recounting her clients' accusations. "She made comments that [Parsippany] was a lily-white town and that people didn't know why she was working there and that she would say, 'Back in my other job, I didn't have these issues and the people understood me.'"
Longarzo said Betelli and her colleagues also accuse Johnson of threatening violence.
"[According to the clients], she told one client that in the old days, she would take her out into the parking lot and put her fists up, saying that she would get into a fight with her," the lawyer alleged. "She mentioned that she had guns and was not afraid to use them.
"These four ladies, who had worked with the town for a long time, were very uncomfortable," Longarzo said, adding that the women did not know where to turn.
According to the attorney, Betelli filed a complaint with the administration 10 days after Johnson started the job.
"No corrective action was taken. The administration sided with Mrs. Johnson and basically told my client to just deal with it," said Longarzo. "It got so bad that Ms. Betelli was forced to retire because she couldn't take it anymore. Her doctor said she couldn't go back to work under those conditions."
The attorney said her clients allege that town officials were not supportive and even retaliatory.
In the tort claim documents published by Parsippany Life, the clerk's employees allege that Mayor Barberio swore at Leslie Miller after she filed another complaint in October.
Johnson also retained an attorney to file a complaint over a hostile work environment and, after four months on the job, took a work-related medical leave that lasted until her employment ended.
Confirmation of the break between Johnson and the township came at the end of March.
Longarzo said she was aware of similar legal actions filed by Johnson.
"We find that amusing," she said.
Neither Johnson nor her attorney, Stephan Mashel, have returned requests for comment.
Town employees named in the tort claim have been advised by their attorney not to comment on the matter. Those who work within town hall are unavailable as the building is closed for Good Friday.