A state Superior Court judge has filed a suit accusing Bergen County’s assignment judge of gender discrimination and creating a hostile work environment.
Deborah Gross-Quatrone, who serves in the Civil Division in Essex County but previously was a family judge in Bergen County, filed the suit against Assignment Judge Bonnie Mizdol in federal court on Thursday. The suit follows an Advisory Committee on Professonial Conduct complaint issued against Gross-Quatrone in March concerning her actions while working under Mizdol.
The suit says Mizdol created a hostile work environment by subjecting Gross-Quatrone to attendance rules that were not imposed on other judges and by keeping close tabs on her attendance. The gender discrimination count is based on comments Mizdol allegedly made about her appearance and clothing.
The civil suit also names Bergen County Trial Court Administrator Laura Simoldoni and Family Division Manager Diana Moskal as defendants.
The suit also claims that Mizdol told Gross-Quatrone that court staff had complained about her demeanor. When Gross-Quatrone asked for elaboration, Mizdol said, “You come here with your fancy clothes and bare legs,” indicating that they were not suitable for a judge and could be the reason complaints were made about her. On another occasion, Mizdol allegedly told Gross-Quatrone she laughs “when I see you in your beach hair and flip flops.”
Gross-Quatrone said she did not wear flip flops during work hours but did wear them while entering the courthouse due to construction in the parking lot.
Mizdol’s actions were motivated by a belief “that plaintiff’s dress, hairstyle, jewelry and other expressions of traditionally feminine gender traits were not appropriate for a judge of the Superior Court,” the suit claims.
The suit also says that when Gross-Quatrone said she had planned an upcoming vacation, Mizdol responded, “Jesus Christ, do you have any other fucking vacation time I don’t know about?” In addition, Mizdol told her she could not leave the courthouse during the day and that lunch breaks were discouraged. But another judge who was transferred to Bergen County at the same time, Christopher Kazlau, was not told of any such rules, the suit said. Mizdol also regularly visited or phoned Gross-Quatrone’s chambers early in the morning to see if she was in.
Gross-Quatrone was the president of the Bergen County Bar Association before she was confirmed to the bench in March 2015 and was a solo in Saddle Brook, where she also was a municipal court judge. She was admitted to the bar in 1990. In her private practice, Gross-Quatrone focused on family law and real estate matters. She is a graduate of Pace University School of Law and Montclair State.
Her suit said Gov. Chris Christie appointed her to sit in Bergen County but she was assigned to Passaic County, due in part to objections raised by Mizdol, the suit claims. She sat in Passaic County for a few months before she was reassigned to Bergen County.
In the summer of 2015, Gross-Quatrone hired Nadya Comas as her law clerk. The ACJC complaint says Gross-Quatrone instructed the clerk to work, without compensation, for nearly three weeks before the clerk’s assignment was actually supposed to start. Mizdol has denied knowingly violating the ethics rules.
But Gross-Quatrone’s suit says in its civil conspiracy county that Mizdol, Moskal and Simoldoni “acted in concert to fabricate and exaggerate complaints and allegations that plaintiff had been abusive to courthouse staff and that she violated a policy concerning the permitted start date for law clerks.”
The suit claims that the defendants violated federal civil rights laws by agreeing to conspire to falsely credit unfounded allegations by Comas and other court staff that Gross-Quatrone exposed them to a hostile work environment. The suit also claims a violation of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act.
Gross-Quatrone’s lawyer, Benjamin Light of Maggs McDermott in Wall, declined to comment on the case. Gross-Quatrone did not return a reporter’s call. Mizdol declined to comment.