TOMS RIVER – An executive assistant prosecutor claims that he was fired for pointing out questionable activities of an addiction coach working with the prosecutor, but his former boss said he was fired for sexually harassing employees.
Michael Paulhus started working at the Prosecutor’s Office in 1993. He was the executive assistant prosecutor when he was fired last year.
The suit names former Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato, first assistant prosecutor John R. Corson, Jr., and 10 John Does.
Coronato was replaced last year by Gov. Phil Murphy. The appointment is a political one; Coronato is a Republican and his replacement, Bradley Billhimer, is a Democrat.
The suit said that Paulhus, while working in his capacity handling internal affairs, was investigating a report that John Brogan had sent someone who was on probation to an out-of-state rehab without permission. Brogan is an addiction recovery specialist who has worked with the prosecutor’s office.
Brogan allegedly brought a probationer to a location where she could illegally “obtain and ingest a controlled dangerous substance” so that this person could enter into rehab.
According to the suit, Paulhus told Coronato and Corson that Brogan was using his personal connection to Coronato to further his business relationship with the prosecutor’s office. He also was misleading as to the cost of his services to parents of people with addictions.
Paulhus asserts that his firing was in retaliation of questioning this situation, and that it violates the whistleblower act.
Further, the press release that the prosecutor’s office put out about his firing, that stated that Paulhus created a “hostile environment” in the workplace, was false and damaging to his personal and professional reputation.
He is suing for undisclosed compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys’ fees, and related costs.
Coronato, reached by phone after the suit was filed, dismissed the charges.
“The allegations in the complaint are totally erroneous,” he said.
When Paulhus brought up the issues with Brogan, they were sent to the Attorney General’s office for review. No charges ever came back because the claims were unsubstantiated.
The reason Paulhus was fired, which was not made public, was because he allegedly sexually harassed a member of the staff, Coronato said. That was the “hostile environment” that was referred to in the press release. He was immediately fired for this. A second victim also came forward. Both victims had documented the instances in which they were sexually harassed.
“I wouldn’t tolerate that in my office,” he said. The lawsuit, he said, is a ruse to cover this behavior.