PISCATAWAY, NJ — In a recent settlement, Piscataway Township Fire District No. 3 and Arbor Hose Company No. 1, Inc. agreed to pay $325,000 to resolve a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by a female firefighter. The lawsuit, brought by Kira Castellon, who was the first woman employed by the fire company as a firefighter, alleged that she experienced sexual harassment and a hostile work environment due to her gender and sexual orientation.
Castellon’s lawsuit claimed that after being promoted to the position of Safety Officer, she was subjected to a “campaign of sexual harassment” by a newly hired employee named Cesar Valenzuela-Sihuas. The alleged harassment included unwanted advances, such as groping, kissing, and pelvic thrustings, as well as licking her face, unwarranted hugs, and breast groping. Castellon stated that her attempts to push Valenzuela away were met with laughter from bystanders.
According to the lawsuit, Valenzuela’s behavior was witnessed by several individuals, including Lt. Paul Gonclavez, Fire Commissioner Malcolm Brown, and Deputy Chief Oliver Uy. Castellon claimed that Valenzuela repeatedly made derogatory comments about her sexual orientation and told her to “get on your knees and I’ll make you straight again” in the presence of Commissioner Brown, Lt. Gonclavez, and Deputy Chief Uy.
In addition to the alleged sexual harassment, Castellon also suffered a workplace injury that required her to use crutches. Upon her return to work, she claimed that Valenzuela continued to harass her by groping her and thrusting his pelvis into her rear-end, even during regular firehouse activities and special events hosted by the firehouse.
Castellon stated that she made multiple attempts to report the harassment to Chief Joshua Scolnick and Captain Adam Scolnick, but they failed to address the situation adequately. She also claimed that the fire district failed to provide any training to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
The lawsuit further stated that Castellon was fired on October 30, 2019, allegedly for using Arbor Hose’s tax-exempt identification number for personal purchases. Castellon disputed the allegations and maintained that the purchases were for firehouse use. She also claimed that senior members of Arbor Hose, including Chief Scolnick, threatened to press charges against her and suspended her during a meeting on October 1, 2019.
Castellon believed that her firing was in retaliation for her complaints about the sexual harassment she experienced. The case, captioned as Kira Castellon v. Arbor Hose Company No. 1, Inc., et al, Docket No. MID-L-7840-20, was settled with the payment of $325,000 to Castellon.
It is important to note that none of Castellon’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing. The settlement may have been reached to avoid further legal expenses, or it may suggest that the defendants wanted to evade potential embarrassment at trial. As settlement agreements are confidential, the precise terms and amounts of the settlement will not be disclosed publicly.
Despite the confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement, which prohibits Castellon from posting the settlement on social media platforms, the public still has the right to access copies of settlement agreements involving government agencies or officials.
In conclusion, the sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by Kira Castellon against Piscataway Township Fire District No. 3 and Arbor Hose Company No. 1, Inc. has been resolved through a settlement of $325,000. The allegations made in the lawsuit highlight the importance of preventing and addressing harassment in the workplace.