NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ–The Middlesex County Improvement Authority (MCIA) is accused by one of its employees of gender-based wage discrimination in a 2017 lawsuit that is already costing taxpayers.
According to the suit, Susan Disario v. Middlesex County Improvement Authority, the MCIA knowingly and willfully violated the New Jersey Equal Pay Act.
Golf course manager Susan Disario discovered that her colleagues Richard Dalina and Gerard Brennan were being paid annual salaries of $90,462 and $88,428 for serving in the same role, while she earns just $61,826 per year.
She also discovered that Dalina and Brennan were receiving a $3,000 car allowance, which she never received. Brennan no longer holds that position, which is now held by Jeff Byrnes, according to the MCIA website.
Executives, upper management and financial officers knew of the pay disparity but failed to correct it, according to the lawsuit, and instead, “enabled, participated and condoned it.”
The New Jersey Equal Pay Act states that: “If any employee, because of his or her employer's violation of the provisions of section two of this act, is discriminated against in the payment of wages, such employee may recover in a civil action the full amount of the salary or wages due from the employer plus an additional equal amount as liquidated damages, together with costs and such reasonable attorney's fees.”
In total, Disario's lawsuit alleges her male colleagues are paid approximately 51% more for the same position with the same responsibilities, while she is managing a larger golf course than the highest-paid manager.
Disario began working for the authority in February 1999 as an assistant manager at The Meadows at Middlesex Golf Course in Plainsboro and due to her “exceptional performance,” Disario was promoted in January 2006 to the golf course manager position at The Meadows, according to the lawsuit, which details salary increases for the three golf course managers.
Dalina serves as manager of the Raritan Landing Golf Course in Piscataway, which the lawsuit notes is "smaller in size than the Meadows Golf Course that Mrs. Disario manages."
Her attorney, Nancy Smith, told Law360.com, “Now the taxpayers will have to pay to defend the indefensible.”
Disario's complaint states that after she complained to staff at MCIA, her colleague Gerard Brennan’s title was changed from "Manager Golf Course" to "Director of Golf Course".
It also discusses how the MCIA failed to investigate discrimination complaints from other women, failed to have a protective environment for employees to voice their concerns and complaints about discrimination and a hostile work environment, and failed to protect her from harassment and retaliation.
The MCIA was created by the Middlesex County Freeholders in 1990 to “improve quality of life of county residents" by providing financial and management assistance to the County, municipalities and other entities within the County.
Besides owning and operating three golf courses, the agency is also in charge of senior long-term care facilities.
The MCIA also remediates and redevelops property, particularly older, abandoned industrial sites, to create “desirable new locations for businesses” and has provided financing for numerous development projects including the Heldrich Hotel and the county's youth detention center.
MCIA Executive Director James Polos was not immediately available for comment on the lawsuit. Polos is just the second person to serve in the position, taking over for Richard Pucci in 2016.
In order to take the position, Polos resigned from the Freeholder Board in 2016, where he served for 18 years. Polos is also a former Mayor of Highland Park and the founder and President of Midlantic Property Management, Inc.
The business’ website says that Mr. Polos personally knows “many local, county and state officials throughout New Jersey. He has also dealt with most state agencies and has experience in land use, zoning, housing and municipal/state inspection programs.”
Disario's attorney filed the case in Essex County because conflicts of interest would prevent a fair and impartial trial in Middlesex.
Among the conflicts alleged are that Dalina is also an elected Councilman in Woodbridge, and both his brother and father have also held government positions within Middlesex County.
Stephen "Pete" Dalina, the father of Richard Dalina, was a member of the Freeholder Board from 1991 until shortly before his death in 2013. His son, Richard's brother, is currently the Council President in Monroe Township, where Pucci served as Mayor for 28 years.
Disario's lawyer said that potential jurors would have a conflict of interest as well, perhaps trying to avoid higher taxes if she wins her case against MCIA.
Despite the conflict concerns, on July 21. 2017, Essex County Superior Court Judge Dennis F. Carey granted the MCIA's request to transfer the case to Middlesex County, saying that the conflict of interest arguments were speculative and unsupported.
The case is on track to be heard in the Middlesex County Courthouse in downtown New Brunswick.
Smith told Law360 in an email, “Thirty years after we passed laws to stop pay discrimination against women, we have made very little progress. This case is particularly egregious because the discriminators are elected officials and the people they hired.”
In response for a request for comment from NJ 101.5, MCIA spokeswoman Carol Byrnes called the lawsuit a "personnel matter and is being handled by our legal team. Therefore, we will have no further comment."
When MCIA Executive Director Polos started his position, he said of government workers: “Never take them for granted. [They] do the job not [only] because they need the job but because they care.”