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Ocean County

Ocean County Jail Rocked by Allegations of Racism, Sexual Harassment & Retaliation in Corrections Officer’s Federal Suit

TOMS RIVER – Female corrections officers are making serious allegations against supervisors & employees of the Ocean County Corrections Department in a federal lawsuit. The officers claim in court filings that they have faced a hostile work environment and numerous lewd sexual comments & retaliatory actions from their supervisors. The county has denied the allegations in a subsequent filing.

Three female Ocean County corrections officers – Sarah Prioli, Elizabeth Clarke and Nicole Horan – are all making very serious allegations against the county jail’s administration, according to documents first made public via the freedom of information website OPRAmachine in response to a request made under the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

Their complaint, filed in New Jersey federal court, names county jail warden Warden Sandra Mueller, Deputy Warden Joseph Valenti, Captain John Haberbush and Captain Joshua Dickinson of the Ocean County Department of Corrections as defendants in the lawsuit.

The Prioli complaint was first made public through our sister website, OPRAmachine, a clearinghouse for public records from New Jersey state & local government agencies.

Prioli, a sergeant in the Ocean County Department of Corrections (OCDC) alleges through her attorneys that she has faced “…a systemic, continuous pattern and practice of gender discrimination, hostile work environment and/or retaliation…” while working at the Ocean County Jail.

Also listed as plaintiffs in the complaint were corrections officers Elizabeth Clarke and Nicole Horan. Clarke has been with the corrections department since 1994, while Horan’s tenure began in 2007, according to the complaint.

“Intentionally Demeaning and Derogatory Conduct”

The corrections officers allege that they have been forced to endure “intentionally demeaning and derogatory conduct” from other employees within the county corrections department.

Prioli’s attorney first claims that the Ocean County Jail administration does not uniformly apply scheduling practices for corrections officer shifts.

“Scheduling is done through unofficial, clandestine procedures in which scheduling officers select their preferred officers, sergeants and lieutenants without any true attempt to ensure equity in scheduling among the officers and between the genders,” Nelson, Prioli’s attorney, wrote in court filings.

“Over the years they endured and continue to endure a continuous pattern  of intentionally demeaning and derogatory conduct designed to both erode their ability for advancement within OCDC and to destroy their ability to work in a professional environment,” attorney Michael Nelson wrote in their complaint.

“Atmosphere of Intimidation”

For their part, the female corrections officers have alleged that an atmosphere of intimidation has prevented any progress from being made  in resolving their allegations. Prior to the filing of the federal lawsuit, complaints were also filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

In response to the Prioli complaint, the county filed an answer in which they denied the majority of the allegations.

“Racial and Gender Harassment”

At the heart of the Prioli complaint was a  litany of allegations against the jail administration, including direct quotes of harassing statements that jail staff is accused of making towards the plaintiffs. Jail supervisors were accused of failing to prevent the harassment and even going so far as to downplay and ignore the pleas of the female corrections officers – and in many instances the female corrections officers allege that they faced retaliation from supervisors as a direct result of their complaints.

More allegations (WARNING, NSFW)

Disparate Treatment Of Female Corrections Officers Alleged

The lawsuit alleges that the Ocean County Jail administration has treated female officers and their concern differently than those raised by male officers, including the following listed in the complaint:

  • OCJ Management is accused of having “…fabricated instances where it is alleged that female sergeants refused to perform their duties in order to creating [sic] a hostile environment for the female sergeants.”
  • Holding female sergeants to a “greater requirement of performance” and perform more work than male sergeants.
  • Disregarding reporting protocol for male sergeants, while still enforcing it for females.
  • Ignoring the actions of male sergeants who “abuse their authority” on female officers.
  • Selectively enforcing the jail’s uniform policy.
  • Refusing to allow a female officer on the midnight shift to work at a particular post because male corrections officers “might dislike too many females at the post.”
  • Refusing to investigate complaints made by a female sergeant that involved male corrections officers.
  • Showing favoritism in the selection of shifts and retaliation against those who complain about unfair treatment.
  • “Intentionally manipulating” the work shifts of employees who have filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC).

Click here to read the full lawsuit and the county’s answer, as originally published on 

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