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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 . 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.

Par4theCourse April 06, 2012 at 07:48 PM
So the biddies who were on autopilot for 20 years suddenly have someone to make them work and after 10 days, they start filing complaints?? Please. Not a fan of alot that's going on with the administration these days but I have to take their side here. Four clerks suddenly made to be accountable and they run to sue. Unbelievable. The one single point I do fault the administration on however, when that "lovefest" occured after Ms. Johnson's hiring, it immediately came to mind what the heck are they doing hiring someone with a 3 hour commute? Other than that, it's out with the old clerks and get some new blood in there....
Natalie Davis (Editor) April 06, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Mrs. Johnson in fact was in the process of buying a home in Parsippany. For the four months that she worked, she lived in a recreational vehicle in the area while her husband remained at their home.
Par4theCourse April 06, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Thanks for replying, Natalie. Still too many unknown variables there if she came to me as a hiring manager with that scenario. In the process of buying a home or looking to buy a home or whatever the situation, there's alot can hold that up. I do understand that different policies apply within different employers though. I will state also that it seems the commute is very far down on the list of issues here. I simply cannot believe someone would go running to file a complaint after the new supervisor only has 10 days on the job. That speaks volumes of the culture that must be going on down there. They better do a good job of researching just what constitutes harrasment and all the other allegations. It's not against the law to be a monster of a manager, there's such a thing as being a professional and learning to deal with someone with a strong personality (if that is even the case).
Natalie Davis (Editor) April 06, 2012 at 08:46 PM
It seems prudent to withhold judgement all around until all sides have had the opportunity to state their cases.
Frank Drebin April 06, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Parsippany Life reports that Fox and dePierro "was their choice and after a closed-session the council approved to hire Johnson Who is running this town? Another lawsuit and closed door sessions. Everything lately winds up in a lawsuit no matter how this turns out the residents have to pay the lawyer, and the clerks or Johnson.
Mark April 07, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Look who comes out on top again... Inglesino and his law firm! Boy did he hit the jackpot with this town.
Screech Owl April 08, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Parsippany Life has a very interesting, expanded story on As The Townhall Turns. I have visited this film set often for many years. The administration may not want to admit that they made a mistake with their choice of hire but the girls who filed the suit are in no way qualified even or "reportedly" qualified for the position of a township clerk. They range from less then one to less then three years experience in the office and the inexperience shows right along with their work ethic. It would seem the marriage between Ms. Johnson and the girls was a perfect match.
VietNam Vet April 09, 2012 at 04:33 AM
Sounds to me like Tonae Betteli was close to retiring and wanted a nice little payout to retire on. Something just doesn't smell right here. There goes a our taxes again!
Lee Mo April 09, 2012 at 11:23 AM
Biddies on autpilot? 1 woman was there for 19 years. She is the only one who filed a suit after 10 days. The other 3 were not there for all those years and did not file suit initially. How can you make a judgement that 4 women would all of a sudden risk their jobs and file a lawsuit? How can you assume that Ms. Johnson within 10 days was "making them accountable" and it drove them to be upset about that? In those 10 days she created a hostile environment - and when the current office members went to complain - and nothing was done - they had no other choice. "Johnson made racial, sexual and religious comments that made them feel uncomfortable in the office" - THAT is what is the claim. They did not sue because they had to work. I am sure that is documented along with the times they escalated their complaints that went unaddressed.
Lee Mo April 09, 2012 at 11:27 AM
Really? Then how do you explain the other 3 joining the suit - who were NOT there nearly as long? Remember the town has great benefits. In this environment who would risk a job that has decent hours and benefits - on a lawsuit that may or may not be won? You don't know the age or time in of these employees.
VietNam Vet April 10, 2012 at 04:08 AM
They would risk the job because of this towns luck, this town has had to pay out on every claim that was put to them. Parsippany has the reputation for losing any lawsuits. Can you tell me one that they didn't have to payout on?

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