College Settles Lawsuit with Former Employee Following Administrator’s Repeated Harassment

Brandie Bookhart had a promising career at Bergen Community College, but it was cut short by her supervisor’s repeated acts of sexual harassment. After enduring nearly 10 months of discomfort and intolerable levels of personal stress and intimidation, she was “constructively terminated.” Soon after she filed a complaint against the college, her harasser and other employees of the institution, charging them with counts including discrimination, retaliation, and negligent retention under both the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and Title VII. Last month it was announced that the lawsuit had been resolved out of court, with all parties having agreed to a $145,000 settlement.

In the original filing, Ms. Bookhart named the college’s former executive vice president, Brian Agnew as the perpetrator of the harassment, as well as the human resources director and the college’s board of trustees. She asserted that the college had failed to properly vet him prior to hiring, and that had they done so they would have determined that he had been similarly accused when he worked at Georgian Court University in Lakewood in 2016 and 2017.

Ms. Bookhart presented a series of incidents that demonstrated the sexual harassment that she had faced and that showed that her former boss “was a particular danger to women in the workplace.” She cited several instances where Agnew insisted on meeting with her privately and asked her questions of a sexual and provocative nature. She indicated that these interactions continued despite her requesting that he stop and telling him that he was making her uncomfortable. Her claim also indicated that while the harassment was going on, Agnew was also terminating other employees and that she feared for her job.

The harassing statements that Agnew made to the victim included him trying to kiss her, telling her, “I thought you were going to tell me you are secretly in love with me,” and persistently asking “if he could trust her.” He also texted her while she was on vacation.

While personally resisting Mr. Agnew’s overtures, Ms. Bookhart learned that several other female co-workers were facing similar harassment. She also faced uncomfortable interactions with the college’s Human Resources Manager, Gwendolyn Harewood, who on separate occasions reprimanded her over the color of her bra strap, demanded to know her bra size, questioned her about her personal life, and demanded that she lift her shirt.

In filing her lawsuit, Ms. Bookhart sought compensation for her loss of income, bonuses, benefits and other employment compensation as well as for her emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and other losses.  She also sought punitive damages based on what she perceived as “malicious, willful, outrageous” actions.

Mr. Agnew is no longer with the college. Following a federal judge’s dismissal of the lawsuit and termination of all pending motions, Bergen Community College issued a statement about the settlement, saying, “We consistently review our operational protocols and practices in order to continuously improve in support of our students, faculty, staff and community.”

Though the Me Too movement, Black Lives Matter have raised awareness, discrimination and harassment continue to be a problem in the workplace. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination provides specific protections for those who have been harassed or discriminated against on the basis of their gender or gender identity, race, disability or any other protected class. If you have been a victim, you have rights. Contact the law firm of Schorr & Associates today to set up a time to discuss your situation and the options that are available to you

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