Reference To ‘Psycho-Bitch’ Can Support Claim For Sexual Harassment

Gina DiPasquale was a corrections officer with the State of New Jersey Department of Corrections. In 2001, DiPasquale became a permanent instructor in the Correctional Staff Training Academy.

In January 2002, female recruits complained to DiPasquale that male instructors embarrassed, bullied and demeaned them because they could not keep up in physical training sessions. DiPasquale reported to her supervisor that male instructors were pushing female recruits to the point of physical exhaustion and illness, and complained that male instructors used sexually offensive cadences during physical training, used verbal obscenities, inappropriately touched female recruits, and demeaned female recruits because of their inability or perceived inability to perform physical exercises. No corrective action was taken as a result of DiPasquale’s complaints.

DiPasquale then began to perceive that other officers were treating her differently after she lodged her complaints. They would not speak to her and called her a “recruit advocate.” DiPasquale’s supervisor ordered her to submit to a fitness-for-duty evaluation. In addition, DiPasquale allegedly became an ongoing topic of discussion among high-ranking officials in the office of the Director of the Office of Training. The Director purportedly referred to DiPasquale as a “psycho-bitch,” and other individuals referred to her as “steroid queen,” a “troublemaker,” a “snitch,” and “crazy.”

Eventually, DiPasquale’s physical and emotional condition worsened to the point where she took disability leave. After disputes with the Department concerning whether matters had been improperly removed from her personnel file, a subsequent reassignment she viewed to be punitive in nature, and the receipt of complaints, DiPasquale resigned her job.

DiPasquale filed a lawsuit against the Department alleging she was the victim of sexual harassment. The key question before a state court of appeals was whether she submitted sufficient evidence to warrant the matter going to trial.

The Court found that DiPasquale had met the minimum threshold for advancing to trial: “We conclude that summary judgment was improperly granted as to DiPasquale’s work environment claim. First, viewing evidence in a light most favorable to DiPasquale, a reasonable jury could conclude that the word ‘bitch,’ in the context the Director used to refer to DiPasquale, is gender related. Among other definitions, the word ‘bitch’ is defined as ‘a malicious, spiteful, or domineering woman – sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse.’ The word ‘bitch’ clearly and objectively has gender-specific connotations the use of which can create a hostile work environment.”

The Court found particularly troubling that DiPasquale alleged that the Director repeatedly called her a “psycho-bitch” in the presence of other employees, including her supervisors, and that these employees harassed, ridiculed and ignored her. The Court found that “a reasonable jury could conclude from this evidence that the ‘psycho-bitch’ comments, along with other evidence of gender-related discriminatory treatment, polluted DiPasquale’s work environment and made it hostile.”

DiPasquale v. State of New Jersey, 2009 WL 1686186 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2009).

This article appears in the August 2009 issue