After working as a chemist for 17 years at Petro-Lubricant Testing Laboratories in LaFayette, NJ, former employee Kristin Laforgia is suing the company and its owners, John Wintermute and Josiah Wintermute. She is seeking punitive damages for gender discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation, and assault and battery.
According to the 11-page complaint, Laforgia claims that “within several days of starting at Petro-Lubricant, it became clear to Laforgia that she had entered a bizarre environment.” Laforgia’s allegations include the following: “John regularly uses profanity in the workplace and has referred to female employees as ‘bitches’ and ‘cunts.'” “John has an explosive temper when drunk and upon information and belief, he has beaten or destroyed the property of female employees that he was having or had a personal relationship with.” “The environment was so bad, that the women in the office had an informal agreement to make sure that no woman was left alone in the lab after hours with John.”
Laforgia claims that John Wintermute is a “dangerous and violent alcoholic” who allegedly regularly brought guns to the workplace and target practiced, hunted, and gutted birds, which he then fed to his dogs, on company property. John Wintermute also allegedly regularly subjected his employees to “anti-religion, anti-minority, anti-Jewish, anti-catholic, anti-gay rants.”
According to the complaint, John Wintermute had or attempted to have affairs with several of Petro’s female employees, and became violent on several occasions, destroying employees’ personal property, assaulting a female employee, and threatening to kill an employee.
Laforgia claims that the Wintermutes retaliated against her by firing her because she refused to lie for the company, which was being investigated in 2009 after being sued by a former female employee, Lisa Ottaviano, who claimed that John Wintermute threatened to kill her when she ended their relationship. The case was allegedly settled out of court in March 2010. The brothers, who allegedly asked employees to lie to the company’s attorney in order to preserve their jobs and the company, eliminated Laforgia’s position in May 2010 under the auspices of “reorganization.” Laforgia claims that she was offered no severance or recognition for her years of service at Petro-Lubricant.
Laforgia claims that Josiah Wintermute, who is John’s brother, was well aware of John Wintermute’s “bizarre conduct” but refused to try to do anything about it. Her attempts to confront John Wintermute about his behaviors were allegedly answered with, “I’m the boss; I can do whatever I want.” A single mother with two children, she says that she stayed on the job for years out of economic necessity. Laforgia is seeking damages for back pay, front pay, lost benefits, compensatory damages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, interest, attorney fees, and costs of the suit.