Wrongful Termination, Harassment Suit Against Ocean County Bridge Supervisor Postponed Again

TOMS RIVER, NJ – A lawsuit filed by former Ocean County Bridge Department employee Ellen Ganapoulos against Bridge Supervisor Michael Reina has been rescheduled for June 10th because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.   The case was initially scheduled for the summer of 2020, then postponed to February.

Reina, who also serves as mayor of Jackson Township is being accused of workplace harassment after an early morning visit to a female bridge worker at the Beaver Dam Bridge sent her into an anxiety and panic attack that required her to seek medical treatment, according to public records.  Reina is facing allegations of workplace harassment against female employee.  The case has been moved again due to a COVID-19 backlog within the Atlantic County Superior Court’s Law Division due to COVID-19.  The incident which happened in Ocean County has been moved to Atlantic County due to conflicts of interest with Reina being both an employee of Ocean County and a Mayor of a municipality in Ocean County.

Reina, who just finished serving his politically appointed term was not renewed by the Ocean County Board of Commissioners in January, instead, the board is opting to let Reina work without an official appointment where he collects over $100,000 annually.

The case is just one of several workplace harassment lawsuits and claims filed against Reina.

According to a complaint filed by the victim,  early in the morning in August of 2017, Reina allegedly arrived at the Beaver Dam Bridge and begin berating the former low-level part-time female bridge worker.  Ganapoulos was eventually fired by the bridge department after the encounter.

“I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, to whoever I want to.”  – Ocean County Bridge Superintendant Michael Reina in the police report.

According to a police report obtained from the Point Pleasant Boro Police Department, early Friday morning, Reina showed up at the Beaver Dam Creek Bridge at 4:30 in the morning.  He says he was conducting his duties as an executive-level administrator for the county, checking in on a low-wage worker in the bridge tower.

Ellen Ganopoulous, who was working the bridge that morning said she was working the overnight shift as a part-time bridge department employee alone when Reina entered her station unannounced, which is required, according to county policy.

Ganopoulous told police that as she was working by herself inside the bridge tower, a male subject she later identified as Michael Reina, the Superintendent of Bridges in Ocean County, entered into the tower unannounced.

A video of the encounter exists and last week, Shore News Network requested a copy of the video through an Open Public Records Act request and have not yet received a reply from the county.

Ganopoulous stated it to be a normal protocol for any visitor of the tower to first pick up the telephone receiver located outside of the tower and to announce their presence before entering, especially at such an off-hour.  In the complaint, she alleges Reina sat in a vehicle on the bridge for roughly 8 minutes, watching her from afar before entering the building unannounced.

Ganopoulous stated she had propped a dustpan against the entrance door that was an early warning system she used to alert her of somebody coming up the steps behind her as she worked alone during the late-night shift.

Ganoplouous stated she heard the dustpan fall and immediately called down to where Reina had been standing in the tower and asked him to identify himself or she would call the police. Ganopoulous stated she asked several times before Reina eventually identified himself and made his way up the stairs near the area she had been occupying.

She told police she repeatedly asked Reina why he didn’t follow proper protocol by picking up the phone outside of the tower to announce that he was planning to enter, to which he would not give a proper reply.

Finally, Reina answered her, according to the police report, “I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, to whoever I want to. Why are you sitting in the dark?”

She said Reina then began to harass her about a past incident she had with county employees.  As the menacing, heavily tattooed Reina continued picking on the woman, he said, “Oh yeah. I heard you had a problem with a couple of other guys a few years ago.”

Ganopoulous stated she acknowledged to Reina that she did in fact have a problem with some male co-workers in the past but that it had been resolved.

“Why don’t you file a complaint tomorrow with Keith Goetting (Director of Employee Relations, Ocean County)  and Tom Curcio (Ocean County Road Dept. Supervisor) and see what happens,” Reina told the woman.

She claims Reina then started to ask her if she uses the tower cameras, which she found odd given the fact that the use of the tower cameras is a large part of her job.  Reina never took the bridge courses, officials said later, so he may not have known that.

According to the Point Pleasant Police Department report, she stated the encounter with Reina to be both threatening and harassing and that it caused her to eventually become short of breath. Ganopoulous stated she eventually started to gather her belongings and ultimately left the tower, eventually making her way to Brick Hospital for medical treatment.

She punched out of her post and Reina was left to man the bridge himself.

When police called  Reina via phone after speaking with Ganopoulous he claims he had communicated with Ganopoulous via email the previous evening and confirmed that Ganopoulous was in fact working on the night in question.

Reina stated it is normal for him, as a supervisor, to arrive unannounced at the county bridges, even at 4:45 in the morning to have communication with the on-duty bridgetenders.  Reina stated he activated the vehicle’s emergency lights and positioned his work vehicle on the bridge near the tower. Reina stated he then entered into the tower without picking up the phone, adding that he is not required to do so as a supervisor.

Reina told police he had concerns about the woman’s choice of footwear.  He asked Ganopoulous about the sandals she was wearing because he didn’t believe open-toe shoes were allowed to be worn while working.

Reina was awarded a 5-year contract with Ocean County after he was appointed by the freeholders under the direction of former Ocean County Freeholder James Lacey.  Reina was awarded the job with the county after he was given a patronage job by former Governor Chris Christie with the Department of Homeland Security.  After a falling out with the former Governor after Christie forced Reina to give up his salary as mayor to avoid double-dipping, Reina eventually quit the job given to him by Christie in order to take a county job where he could resume taking pay and health benefits from his mayoral job in Jackson.  Reina claimed he never took a mayoral salary during his tenure with the state, but an open public records request with the Township of Jackson shows he did receive reduced paychecks during that period.

Reina earns $95,963 annually from that position.  His term expires this December and it’s unlikely that he could be rehired as pressure mounts against him.  Reina is also facing a federal RLUIPPA lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice, a federal Civil Rights lawsuit, and is the focus of several land-use lawsuits in his township claiming he is discriminating against Jews in his position as mayor of Jackson Township.

We reached out to Reina for comment on this story and he refused to comment.  We also reached out to Ocean County Business Administrator Carl Block who also did not respond to an email regarding this incident.

 

Criminal Harassment Complai… by Phil Stilton on Scribd