Westfield DPW Employee Suit Claims Harassment, Discrimination

By LAUREN S. BARR
Specially Written for The Leader/Times

WESTFIELD — On Friday, Department of Public Works (DPW) employee Christopher Bohnyak filed suit against the town and DPW Director Greg O’Neil alleging that they created a hostile work environment where he was harassed and discriminated against. At the time the lawsuit was filed, Mr. Bohnyak was suspended without pay, but on Tuesday received a letter from the town stating that his employment was terminated, his attorney, Joshua McMahon, told The Westfield Leader.

The lawsuit claims that the defendants believed that Mr. Bohnyak was providing information related to public corruption and was retaliated against after making safety-violation complaints related to tree pruning in violation of the Conscientious Employment Protection Act.

The suit alleges that the town and Mr. O’Neill “falsely and baselessly accused Plaintiff, in an investigative report commissioned by the Town, of “leaking” information related to public corruption to a local political activist and blogger named Greg Kasko. This baseless accusation was memorialized in an official report commissioned by Defendants.”

Attached to the suit is a portion of the report issued by Stephanie Gironda, Esq., of the Wilentz Goldman & Spitzer law firm in May of 2019 regarding allegations of theft of overtime by DPW employees. Mr. Kasko, who runs The Fact of the Matter (TFOTM) blog, had alleged theft of overtime in the DPW, including posting copies of employee timecards. According to TFOTM, an investigation also was launched by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.

Ms. Gironda’s investigation found “no proof of overtime fraud or any other type of fraud” at the DPW. However, in his interview with Ms. Gironda, Mr. Bohnyak stated that, “he believes that it is ‘one hundred percent true’ that overtime fraud is being committed by Town of Westfield employees.” The report references exhibits that were not included in the lawsuit. The Leader has filed an OPRA request with the town to obtain the full report from Ms. Gironda. The Union County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment regarding an investigation.

When contacted by The Leader, Mr. Kasko provided a statement which read, in part, “I have previously personally experienced the retaliation of Westfield for reporting impropriety/improprieties. It began in 2004. Shortly after I began my blog, I was interviewed with my attorney by the prosecutor’s office. The only interest they had was to seal the leaks of information to my blog. At that time, the only questions they had concerned my sources. …In the present matter, the town wanted to know the name of the leak…Up until, and during my text messages with (Town Attorney) Tom Jardim, I had no contact with Mr. Bohnyak. He (Bohnyak) is named by the town’s hired law firm in a flawed assumption. The attorney at Wilentz was more interested in making assumptions about the identity of the leak than trying to determine why she was given records that were incapable of proving the theft that pre-dated the evidence provided.”

The detailed suit says that Mr. Bohnyak reported his Atrial fibrillation condition to the town, which precluded him from being able to jump on and off the garbage truck. He claims that he was written up for insubordination and reassigned to “walking around town to collect garbage.”

According to the suit, because of his condition, Mr. Bohnyak used his sick time in April to self-isolate due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It further alleges that after his return to work, Mr. Bohnyak was then assigned to clean public restrooms, which he claims he would do if provided with proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) due to his medical condition. After being denied the N95 mask and Tyvek suit he requested, Mr. Bohnyak then contacted the business agent for his union, Mike Broderick, who allegedly said that Mr. Bohnyak should be reassigned due to his health condition and that the task should be assigned to “someone with less seniority.” The lawsuit states that 10 individuals had lower seniority than Mr. Bohnyak at the time. On June 1 he was suspended without pay for one day for “refusing to clean the municipal lavatories.”

On August 26, the town sent Mr. Bohnyak a letter stating that if he did not return to work by September 4, he would be terminated. That same letter references a grievance meeting and denial of the grievance by Town Administrator Jim Gildea. According to the suit, Mr. Bohnyak did return to work on September 4 with a doctor’s note explaining that he “must be provided with adequate personal protective equipment” if he is to clean bathrooms; he was again suspended and then terminated.

The Town of Westfield stated that it does not comment on pending litigation.