Berkeley Fighting Anti-Defamation Suit

Berkeley Town Hall (Photo by Jason Allentoff)

BERKELEY – A Berkeley Township Recreation Department supervisor has accused Mayor Carmen F. Amato Jr. and several other township employees of discrimination and harassment because she is Jewish.

Debra Reuter recently filed a suit against Amato, Buildings and Grounds Supervisor Ted McFadden, Township Administrator John A. Camera and Deborah Winogracki, director of the Recreation Department.

Reuter is still listed as the supervisor of the Recreation Department. She is described in the suit as a “Jewish female suffering from anxiety.”

The suit states that Amato, McFadden, Winogracki, Camera and two unidentified employees known as John Doe 1-5 and/or Jane Doe 1-5 “engaged in a severe and pervasive pattern of mentally abusive and offensive behavior directed at plaintiff for being of the Jewish faith and being disabled, which conduct was designed to, among other things, punish plaintiff for being Jewish and disabled. This improper and intentional behavior constitutes religious discrimination and created an openly hostile work environment for plaintiff.”

But Camera said after the Dec. 17 Township Council meeting that all of the allegations are false.

“We intend to defend it as vigorously as possible,” Camera said. “We are considering countersuing.”

The township and those named in the suit have no intentions of settling, he said.

The lawsuit cites a number of examples of what Reuter’s attorney calls “ongoing and severe religious and disability discrimination and daily harassment.” It demands a trial by jury.

Allegedly, Amato tried to force Reuter to work at an Italian flag raising event on Sept. 30, 2017, even though the suit says Reuter told him it as a Jewish high holy day and she needed the day off to go to temple and fast. Amato “yelled” at her and asked “why do you need the day off to go sit and pray,” the suit states.

On Oct. 28, 2017, Amato told his wife to “shout” that Reuter was a “moron” at the township’s Halloween event, because Jews do not celebrate Halloween, according to the suit.

In November 2017, Amato told Reuter he wanted fliers about the township’s Holiday Tree event changed to a Christmas Tree lighting event so it was “in no way” associated with Hanakkuh, the suit states.

In Nov. 2017, Amato reprimanded Reuter for missing a township meeting even though she was on vacation that day, according to the suit.

Also in Nov. 2017, the employee discount Reuter received for her two-year-old son to attend the Berkeley Township preschool program was taken away, while other non-Jewish employees still had the discount, the suit states.

Carmen Amato (Photo courtesy Berkeley Township)

In January 2017, the suit alleges that MacFadden told Reuther that a company that does maintenance work for Berkeley was run by “stupid Jews,” the suit states.

In February 2018 both McFadden and Winogracki punished Reuther for being Jewish by taking away job responsibilities, humiliating her in front of other employees and saying that “Jews are cheap” and telling anti-Semitic “jokes” on a daily basis, according to the suit.

On Jan. 5, 2018 Camera accused Reuter of stealing township funds and terminated Reuter’s Municipal Alliance portion of her salary because he said her work with the Municipal Alliance was not authorized, even though she had done the work for 14 years, the suit states.

In April 2018, Camera took away Reuter’s office, had her belongings packed and dropped off at her home while she was on leave for anxiety caused by the workplace religious discrimination and/or harassment. She was forced to bring back all the items when she returned from leave, according to the suit.

“Defendants, Amato, McFadden, Winogracki and Camera’s conduct was outrageous and extreme so as to go beyond all possible bounds of human decency and was so atrocious to be intolerable in a civilized community,” the suit states.

The township failed to have a failed to have a program in place to enforce anti-harassment or anti-discrimination practices, according to the suit.

The suit also demands compensatory and punitive damages, emotional distress damages, attorneys’ fees, interest, the cost of the suit and a trial by jury.

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Patricia A. Miller began her career in 1984 as a reporter at the Asbury Park Press. She covered a variety of towns in Ocean County and wrote an award-winning column, "Ocean Diary," each week. She later spent seven years at Greater Media Newspapers and served as managing editor of the Edison/Metuchen Sentinel, the Woodbridge Sentinel and the Brick Township Bulletin during that time. Pat spent the last 8 years as a local Patch editor. Pat has won a number of awards during her time as a journalist, including the New Jersey Press Association, the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists and the North Jersey Press Club.