Jackson council settles legal matter for $300K

Staff Writer

A legal case involving years of alleged sexual misconduct and discrimination in the Jackson Building Department came to a close earlier this month when the Jackson Township Council unanimously approved a $300,000 settlement to the plaintiff.

According to the complaint, former Jackson municipal employee Debra Borbotko was allegedly subjected to routine physical and emotional stress by former Jackson housing inspector Raymond Powell.

“Unfortunately, you can’t legislate against stupidity, and the taxpayers are left holding the bag on this,” Council President Robert Nixon said of the settlement.

The township’s insurance carrier agreed to settle the case for $300,000, of which Jackson’s contribution is $65,000. The $65,000 paid by Jackson includes $5,000 in lost wages, Township Attorney Jean Cipriani said.

Borbotko was hired by Jackson in 1999 to work as a clerk.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court by attorney Frank Gaudio on behalf of Borbotko in 2011, states that the alleged abuse began when Borbotko became employed as a housing inspector for the Jackson Building Department in March 2005.

The complaint states that shortly after Borbotko took on the new position, she began receiving unwanted sexual advances from Powell. The advances reportedly escalated very quickly to “touching, abusive language and gestures of a sexual nature.”

The complaint alleges that in one instance, Powell forcibly assaulted Borbotko and restrained her in the process.

The complaint states that Borbotko protested Powell’s actions, but that he continued the harassment, resulting in a “working environment where compliance with such action was made a condition of employment.”

The complaint alleges that Powell stalked Borbotko and worked to “defame [her] character and competency to third parties up until the complaint was filed in September 2011.”

The alleged physical and verbal abuse were not the only issues addressed in the 29-page complaint. Borbotko also claimed she was being discriminated against when it came to being paid a commensurate wage compared to her male counterparts.

According to the complaint, Borbotko applied to become a housing inspector for Jackson in September 2002.

In October 2002, Borbotko was interviewed and tested for the position by supervisor Barry Olejarz, who placed her as the top prospect of three applicants for the position. She claims the position was given to a man who placed below her in the testing, according to the complaint.

More than a year later, Borbotko tried again and placed third behind two candidates who were moved to the top of the list based on veterans preference. One of those veterans was Powell, who accepted the housing inspector position with a salary of about $35,000.

In 2004, Powell received a raise to $37,000. In 2005, his salary was raised to $45,000 after he received his building inspector’s license, according to the complaint.

At the same time, Borbotko was hired as a housing inspector at a salary of $30,500.

According to the complaint, Olejarz allegedly told Borbotko the township “had to offer her less” and that after a period of time her salary would be increased to the appropriate amount.

Requests made by Olejarz from 2005 to 2007 to increase Borbotko’s salary were denied, according to the complaint, which alleged that during that time, Borbotko had been working just as hard as a male coworker who was also in that position and was being paid more.

By April 2007, Borbotko and Powell were transferred to the code enforcement office as a promotion. At the time, Powell was placed in a lower position compared to Borbotko, but still received a higher salary for at least four more years.

As a result, Borbotko claimed she was “greatly humiliated, shamed, embarrassed, endured great physical pain and mental suffering, and was … nervous and distraught.” The complaint stated that along with Powell’s actions, municipal officials failed to provide a safe and healthy workplace environment, which caused Borbotko mental and physical anguish over the years.

The township, Olejarz and five unnamed municipal employees were named with Powell in the complaint for failing to address the problem quickly.

Cipriani said her firm, Gilmore and Monahan, was not involved in the legal proceedings for long, as it proved to be a conflict of interest. “It became clear that the township’s interests and the interests of the accused were not co-extensive. At that point, we were so far into this matter that our firm felt there was a conflict position,” Cipriani said.

According to attorney Denis Kelly, who represented Jackson, during the course of the case, Borbotko said Olejarz had nothing to do with any of the alleged incidents.

Council members decried the situation during the Jan. 14 meeting of the governing body.

“We cannot allow the one or two outliers who engage in poor behavior to reflect on the rest of the municipal employees,” Nixon said. “It is not fair for the people who come here every day and do a good job to have one person’s behavior stain their careers. Our township employees are overwhelmingly some of the hardest-working, most dedicated people in public employment, and we are very proud of all of them.”

Gaudio, who represented Borbotko, could not be reached for comment.

Attorney Kevin Riordan, who represented Powell, declined to comment on any matters regarding the case.