Editor’s Note: This article was updated with comment from Ferguson at 1:32 p.m. Friday, July 19.
Five years ago, Atlantic County paid two women $260,000 to settle sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuits filed against county counsel James Ferguson.
Both women — Shelly Imperatore, then a principal claims investigator for the county, and Theresa Hiles, who was then a workers compensation defense attorney for the county — accused Ferguson of sexually harassing them for almost 10 years, starting in late 2011 or early 2002.
Both women said Ferguson leered at them, talked directly to their breasts and made inappropriate comments about their clothing and bodies.
Hiles also alleged Ferguson attempted to hug and kiss her on one occasion.
Both women claim Ferguson began retaliating against them after they separately reported the alleged harassment.
Ferguson and the county, which was named as a defendant in the suit, denied all charges leveled by both women, according to court filings, and neither settlement agreement stipulated guilt on anyone’s part.
On Friday, Ferguson told the New Jersey Globe that he continued to deny the women’s allegations.
He said he would have preferred to continue to fight the suits but was pushed into settling by the cost of the litigation.
Ferguson said continuing the suit would have cost the county dearly, to the tune of $500,000.
That wasn’t tenable for Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, who recommended the suits enter mediation.
Ferguson said the $260,000 paid out as part of the settlement was about a third of what the women were seeking in damages.
The women alleged their complaints, which were made years apart from one another, were not taken seriously by county officials, who Imperatore and Hiles claim were condoning Ferguson’s alleged actions.
Imperatore’s suit says she complained about her boss’s alleged conduct on at least four occasions, once in 2007 and three times in 2011.
Hiles’ suit said she complained twice, with both complaints coming in 2011.
Both women’s suits said they spoke with County Administrator Jerry DelRosso and Deputy County Administrator Diana Rutala.
Imperatore said she did not file a formal complaint when she raised red flags over Ferguson’s alleged behavior because she was made to feel as though her job was at risk during a meeting with DelRosso.
Hiles claimed Rutala put her in an awkward position by asking the “what do you want me to do about it?”
Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner is currently facing a separate suit filed by women who claim they were discriminated against because of their gender.
The settlements, which were both signed on Jan. 20, 2014, awarded Hiles $135,000 and Imperatore $125,000.
It’s not clear whether the county or its insurer paid.