• October 22, 2019

County board clerk’s complaint alleges harassment by Hayes and Morey - Ocean City Sentinel: News

County board clerk’s complaint alleges harassment by Hayes and Morey

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Posted: Wednesday, October 2, 2019 12:59 pm | Updated: 1:14 pm, Wed Oct 2, 2019.

CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Cape May County Board of Freeholders Clerk and Administrator Elizabeth Bozzelli filed a complaint in state Superior Court against Freeholders Will Morey and E. Marie Hayes and at least 10 other unnamed individuals or “John Does” over alleged harassment. 

Filed Sept. 4, the lawsuit claims Hayes and Morey retaliated against her for objecting to Hayes trying to get a county position for her son, Lloyd Hayes. 

Bozzelli insisted that “Lloyd Hayes had to be held accountable, as all other employees would be, for his history of employment problems,” according to the complaint. 

The complaint cites the state Legislature’s position on conflicts of interest: “In a representative form of government, it is essential that the conduct of public officials and employees shall hold the respect and confidence of the people. Public officials must, therefore, avoid conduct which is in violation of their public trust which creates a justifiable impression among the public that the trust is being violated.”

Bozzelli addressed the matter to County Counsel Jeff Lindsay, who explained the county has a conflict of interest policy but no nepotism policy. Lindsay said the conflict of interest policy was broad enough to cover nepotism issues. 

Lindsay is the stepson of Freeholder Director Gerald Thornton.  

Freeholders considered appointing Bozzelli to the position of county administrator Oct. 23, 2018. The complaint notes that Bozzelli had been performing the duties of administrator “for a substantial period of time” before that.

“Prior to the meeting, Defendant Morey approached plaintiff and asked if her family would be present at the meeting because he intended to publicly embarrass himself,” according to the complaint. “During the meeting, Defendant Hayes and Defendant Morey made knowingly false and misleading statements about plaintiff in an attempt to prevent her from being formally appointed as County Administrator.”

Bozzelli objected to the statements and characterized them as “retaliatory and in violation of the conflict of interest policy and local government law.”

The complaint alleges that her treatment was due to her Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) activity and both Hayes and Morey “continued to make publicly false, derogatory and humiliating comments” about Bozzelli.

“In addition, Defendant Hayes worked to exclude plaintiff from tasks and projects of the sort in which she had previously participated,” according to the complaint. 

In November 2018, the county retained KSBranigan Law P.C. of Montclair to investigate Bozzelli’s allegations. 

The complaint alleges that Morey requested that Bozzelli drop the complaints, and she refused.

After six months, the investigator issued a report in June 2019 that concluded Bozzelli was the victim of retaliation. 

The county hired a second law firm to advise an appropriate action regarding Hayes.  

On July 9, the freeholders voted to censure Hayes for her alleged retaliation against Bozzelli and for conflicts of interest in attempting to find employment for her son. 

Hayes said at the time that she had to hire an attorney to defend herself against Bozzelli’s allegations. 

Hayes said her son is a county employee who makes just over $30,000 a year and is the only member of her family who works for the county. She said in July that Bozzelli’s comments have placed her son “in a precarious position as a county employee.” 

At the July meeting, Hayes said the county was rife with nepotism, and noted Lindsay is Thornton’s stepson.

“The public should know as the result of my vote, I became the subject of an investigation. That is the reason for tonight’s vote, to publicly censure me based on false information, baseless conclusions and an incomplete investigation,” Hayes said. 

Both Hayes and Thornton are Republicans seeking re-election in the Nov. 5 general election.

At the same meeting, Bozzelli said she was “demonized” for her role in Hayes’ censuring. 

“I exercised the right that I had, and I know it’s unpopular in this room, to express what has gone on in the workplace,” Bozzelli said in July. 

The complaint alleges that Bozzelli suffered “emotional harm” from the ordeal.

Attorney Daniel Silverman of the Mount Laurel-based firm Costello & Mains LLC filed the complaint. 

Bozzelli is seeking both compensatory and noneconomical damages, punitive damages and cost of suit and attorney’s fees and other relief the court deems equitable, according to the complaint.

Democratic freeholder candidates Liz Casey and Joyce Gould issued a statement Sept. 25 about Bozzelli’s lawsuit, calling the county government a “shipwreck of an administration.” 

“This action exacerbates the extreme turmoil currently occurring in Cape May County. In the extraordinary series of attacks between incumbent Freeholders Jerry Thornton and Marie Hayes in their re-election bid, we now see the county being elevated to a new and unprecedented level of dysfunction,” the statement read. “The meltdown we are witnessing by officials is causing irreparable damage to the county.” 

In a Sept. 24 interview with the Ocean City Sentinel, both Thornton and Hayes said they are ready to move forward together with their campaign. 

“It’s absolutely resolved,” Thornton said. “Every family has disagreements. I don’t care who they are. That’s been resolved. It’s over and we’re campaigning together.”

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