TOMS RIVER, N.J. (CN) - A city tax collector abused her employees as a sort of perverse game, keeping a "'Wall of Shame' which ... displayed a funerary urn filled with 'Ashes of Problem Employees,' and various nameplates of the employees ... she had personally 'exterminated,'" [meaning] fired or had quit their jobs because of her," one of her alleged victims claims in court.
Michelle Ruppert sued the Borough of Point Pleasant, N.J., its Office of the Tax Collector, Tax Collector Bernadine Pearce, and her boss, Borough Administrator David Maffei, in Ocean County Court.
Ruppert claims Pearce routinely abused employees she deemed "less perfect" than herself, and zeroed in on her on Day One of her employment.
The complaint states: "On the first day of plaintiff's employment, defendant Pearce, in a manner resembling the way Adolf Hitler treated the disabled and the Jews during the Holocaust, showed Plaintiff her 'Wall of Shame' which wall displayed a funerary urn filled with 'Ashes of Problem Employees,' and various name plates of the employees who were 'exterminated' by defendant Pearce. Defendant Pearce told plaintiff that the nameplates on her 'Wall of Shame' belonged to past employees she had personally 'exterminated,' [i.e.] fired or had quit their jobs because of her."
Ruppert claims that Pearce "engaged in a severe and pervasive pattern of mentally abusive and offensive behavior directed at plaintiff, who suffered from a disability, which conduct was designed to, among other things, punish plaintiff for being disabled and cause plaintiff severe emotional distress." (15)
Ruppert says the instances of abuse to which she was subjected to are "too numerous" to list, but she does mention several of them.
She claims that Pearce screamed, yelled, belittled and threw papers at her, slammed her fists and objects in front of her, and chastised her in front of others for saying hello to members of the public and wishing them a good day.
"On occasions too numerous to list, defendant Pearce belittled plaintiff by making outrageous comments such as 'To people like you, 2+4 must equal 8,' with the intent to shame and harass plaintiff," the complaint states.
It continues: "On occasions too numerous to list, defendant Pearce stood directly behind plaintiff while she worked, and breathed down her neck, invading her personal space, in a hostile manner for a prolonged period of time with the intent to intimidate, shame, harass, and threaten plaintiff;
"On occasions too numerous to list, defendant Pearce slammed her fists down in front of plaintiff and slammed objects down in front of plaintiff in a hostile and volatile manner all with the intent to intimidate, shame, harass, and threaten
"On at least one occasion, defendant Pearce yelled at plaintiff that she was a 'waste as a human being,' with the intent to intimidate, shame, humiliate, and harass plaintiff;
"On at least one occasion, defendant Pearce instructed and/or condoned her daughter, Eileen, to give plaintiff the middle finger at work and yelled at plaintiff in a hostile and volatile manner that she was a 'mess up' of a person and that she should just 'quit her job.'
"The allegations set forth above are not intended to be an exhaustive list of all of the allegations against defendants, but merely a representative sample.
Ruppert says she believes this treatment stemmed from Pearce's dislike of the disabled "and/or imperfect people."
Ruppert says she told Pearce this treatment was exacerbating her pre-existing anxiety disorder, but Pearce seemed to relish the adverse impact she was having on her employee.
As a result, Ruppert says, she had to take sick leave, and when she returned, she found her workspace had been relocated so that she would face the Wall of Shame every day as she worked.
Ruppert seeks compensatory and punitive damages for hostile workplace, discrimination, negligence and emotional distress.
She is represented by Rosemarie Arnold of Fort Lee.