PERTH AMBOY, NJ—The city government has agreed to spend $150,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a civil lawsuit brought by one of its employees, alleging that a former Police Director had sexual harassed her on numerous occasions.
A civilian employee at the Perth Amboy Police Department (PAPD) records clerk Nalda Capo, filed the lawsuit against former Perth Amboy Police Chief, Benjamin Ruiz,
The complaint againt Ruiz, a close ally of Mayor Wilda Diaz, was filed at the Middlesex County Courthouse on December 10, 2015.
Represented by attorney Gary Roth, Capo claimed Ruiz made inappropriate comments and "incessantly stared at her" for 12 years, in the given time frame of 2007 through 2014.
Ruiz was suspended without pay in December 2014, after being arrested on charges that were later dismissed.
Ruiz was indicted under criminal charges of official misconduct, the misuse of public funds on personal vehicles, and witness tampering in the first case, but was found not guilty on all charges by a jury on September 20.
But he was officially terminated on June 7, one week after a subsequent arrest on charges of trespassing and impersonating a police officer.
That case is scheduled for a pre-indictment conference on November 7 in the courtroom of Judge Dennis Nieves.
The settlement of the separate civil case brought by Capo against Ruiz and the City was supposed to be addressed at the September 12 Perth Amboy City Council meeting.
However, the city’s new Law Director, Louis Rainone, asked the Council to table the settlement so he could familiarize himself with it.
One month later, on October 12, the City Council voted 5-0 to approve the $150,000 settlement.
One man in the audience spoke about the matter, arguing that the city had spent substantially more on Ruiz's legal matters, because the $150,000 did not include legal bills that the city taxpayers had to pay.
In 2010, Capo claims she received a handwritten letter from Ruiz: “Nalda, please make time to see me on this ASAP.”
The back of the note stated that her only job was to take care of “the crib,” “Papi” (Ruiz’s Nickname), and that her nails and hair should be done weekly.
According to Capo's complaint, physical confrontations also occurred inside police headquarters, and at a work-related event.
On several occasions, Ruiz had allegedly stared at her breasts for long periods of time, rubbed her neck and shoulders without permission, and on one occasion, he moved her hair to the side and kissed her on the left side of her neck.
Capo reported Ruiz’s sexual advances and remarks to her union president, Ruth Vega.
A meeting addressed the sexual harrasment claim, but Capo’s attorney claimed that retaliation against his client, sparked by Ruiz's resentment, soon unfolded.
Roth alleged that Ruiz “retaliated against her in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination,” which culminated in Ruiz denying Capo a position that she had applied and interviewed for.
Capo was promised a safe working environment, but according to filed complaint, the City of Perth Amboy ignored her request.
Capo allegedly “lived in constant fear to the point where [she] had to leave work using her own personal time because she can’t live in fear.”
In response to the complaint, Rainone's law firm, Decotiis, Fitzpatrick and Cole LLP, defended the City of Perth Amboy and Ruiz by deniying the allegations against him, without much detail or elaboration.
Ruiz's attorney demanded a trial by jury, but the matter was evenutally resolved with the monetary settlement.
The case has raised questions about how the town–and its embattled police department–handle issues of workplace harassment and what training employees receive about it.
On February 28, 2014, a senior risk control specialist held a "risk control training" for the PAPD. But it's unclear if Ruiz was in attendance.
In a subsequent letter to NIP, the buisness insurance and risk managment group hired by the Perth Amboy, former PAPD officer and City Councilman Kenneth Balut questioned the extent to which the risk management group handled the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace.
NIP organized a specific segment just for supervisors that lasted a half hour. Balut inquired whether the Senior Risk Coordinator knew if Ruiz was even present.
According to Balut’s letter, Middlesex County had already settled two sexual harassment cases against the Middlesex County Sherriff’s department for $2,500,000, and Perth Amboy has settled a sexual harassment case for $90,000.