With the local election season in full swing, and against the backdrop of massive sexual misconduct allegations against high-profile men in Hollywood, the media, and the United States government, a ‘sexting” scandal is resurfacing here in Bayonne.
Stacie Percella, who accused Mayor James Davis last year of allegedly sending her sexually explicit text messages, has now accused him of quid pro quo sexual harassment for allegedly offering to settle a lawsuit she filed against the City of Bayonne in 2014 if she were to “commit to involving herself romantically” with him, according to a lawsuit filed last week.
The new lawsuit claims Percella faced a hostile work environment, sexual discrimination, and harassment by the mayor, and illegal termination in December of 2016. The lawsuit demands that she be awarded compensatory damages, emotional distress damages, and punitive damages.
Percella worked on Davis’s mayoral campaign in 2014 and alleges Davis sent her explicit text messages during the campaign and while she worked for the city, between 2013 and 2015. Percella worked in the city’s public works department for 17 years until being terminated for what city officials said was “inappropriate workplace behavior.” Percella called for the mayor’s resignation at a city council meeting on May 17, 2017.
Davis has not denied the claims, but said in May that the messages were “harmless, playful banter between two adults.” A spokesperson for Davis at the time called Percella’s allegations “part of an orchestrated campaign to make millions of dollars off of Bayonne taxpayers and destroy [his] reputation,” and that their friendship, which dates back decades, has “never been physical in nature.”
“[The messages were] “harmless, playful banter between two adults.” – Mayor James Davis
Referencing this lawsuit, Paul Swibinski, a spokesperson for Davis’s campaign, called Percella “bitter and angry.” He maintains that Percella’s motivations are financial and vengeful. “[Davis] didn’t save her from being fired from a city job after she was allegedly abusive toward a city resident,” he said.
In her 2014 lawsuit against the City of Bayonne, Percella claims discrimination and sexual harassment, and sought damages and attorney’s fees. The complaint did not name then candidate James Davis for sexual harassment, but rather two former city officials. Mayor Davis took office July 1, 2014, after winning the June 10 runoff election against former Mayor Mark Smith. The suit was filed on June 9, 2014.
A new layer
Percella’s accusations last year sent shockwaves through the city. This year, with local elections looming, the shockwaves are still reverberating. In many of the sexual harassment cases now making headlines, victims did not come forward sooner for fear of retaliation and social stigma. Percella echoes those sentiments.
[I made] “every effort to ignore and disregard the ‘sexting’ for fear of reprisal and retaliation.”—Stacie Percella
In the most recent lawsuit, Percella said the she made “every effort to ignore and disregard the ‘sexting’ for fear of reprisal and retaliation.”
Percella’s 2014 lawsuit, meanwhile, made no mention of the text messages, which were allegedly occurring at the time of filing.
Stacie Percella could not be reached for comment. Her 2014 lawsuit against the city is ongoing, but it was stayed in November when her attorney, former Bayonne business administrator, Peter Cresci, was temporarily suspended from practicing law in November of 2016. The most recent suit was filed by Suzy R. Yengo, an attorney with Cresci & Finnegan, LLC. Yengo could also not be reached for comment.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.