By Emanuele Calianno, Editor-at-Large
A former BCC employee has filed a lawsuit against former Executive Vice President Brian Agnew, who resigned last month amid allegations of sexual harassment and intimidation. Brandie Bookhart, a Benefits Administrator who left in October, is accusing Agnew of a pattern of inappropriate behavior over a period of ten months, beginning shortly after Agnew’s arrival at the college in January 2019. The lawsuit states that he harassed multiple employees, and Bookhart said she spoke to another woman targeted by Agnew. Bookhart is also suing the college and Board of Trustees for negligent hiring processes, and human resources director Gwendolyn Harewood, who she claims was complicit in the harassment.
A report of the lawsuit was first published on February 12 by The Bergen Record but did not include several parts of the document. According to the suit, he began making frequent visits to Bookhart’s office, shutting the door each time. During an early visit, he asked questions about her marriage, and then responded to a work-related matter with “I thought you were going to tell me you are secretly in love with me.” In later visits, Agnew asked Bookhart if he could trust her and other employees, and repeatedly said he needed to “figure out what to do” with her. In May, Agnew visited Bookhart’s office and said he wanted to kiss her. Bookhart changed the subject immediately. Bookhart was afraid Agnew would terminate her for refusing to kiss him and discuss personal matters, she said in the suit.
During this time, Agnew outfitted his office and conference room to be soundproof, according to the complaint. In June, Agnew invited Bookhart to talk about work at a Paramus restaurant, where he instead began a game of “20 Questions,” asking things such as her favorite sex position and if she had ever “messed around with someone else at the college.” Agnew then told her to “protect him,” and not to “[expletive] him over,” the lawsuit states. Agnew’s alleged conduct continued after that. On one occasion, he tried to force Bookhart to view a picture on his phone after talking about wearing a speedo bathing suit, reportedly in front of another employee.
The lawsuit also accuses Harewood of being complicit in this behavior, citing an instance in which she repeatedly asked Bookhart about her bra size. Agnew later alluded to being aware of the event. Weeks later, Harewood asked her to lift up her shirt, according to the complaint. The lawsuit states Harewood also seemed aware of Agnew’s behavior towards Bookhart, although she is not reported to have mentioned it to her. On one occasion, Harewood told her she would have more respect for Bookhart if she declined lunch with Agnew in the future. In September, Bookhart said she was approached by an employee who had noticed she was distraught. Bookhart then informed the coworker of Agnew’s conduct. The coworker, shocked, responded, “me too.”
Two women at the college, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that they had also been harassed by Agnew over a period of months and that they experienced a pattern of behavior parallel to the one in Bookhart’s complaint. “The ‘20 questions’ [game], the hugs, the speedo thing, he did all of that. He definitely played by a script,” one of the women said. Bookhart said in the suit that Agnew’s behavior caused her significant emotional distress, affecting her job performance and forcing her to stop teaching a class and to drop work committees. In early October, Bookhart was “constructively terminated,” a term indicating a resignation due to a hostile work environment. That same day, Agnew invited her to dinner and forced her into a prolonged hug that made her extremely uncomfortable, she said in the suit.
A week later, Bookhart told President Michael Redmond that she had been harassed, who launched an investigation. In the following days, Agnew reportedly went around campus telling employees that Bookhart was “[expletive]ed up,” and told a professor that “there is going to be trouble.” He then attempted to intimidate and coach employees who were witnesses in the investigations, according to the suit.
Agnew was placed on administrative leave towards the end of October and resigned on January 31, the day the lawsuit was filed. The college did not announce his leave of absence or his resignation until the story in The Bergen Record was published. In a statement, the college said it could not discuss personnel matters, but that an investigation was launched immediately after the allegations of harassment were made. It did not disclose if Agnew received pay during his leave of absence. Harewood is still employed at the college. As BCC’s Title IX Coordinator, she oversees all complaints of sexual harassment and sexual violence. She declined to comment.
Agnew, 38, held several administrative and faculty positions prior to BCC, including Georgian Court University, Rutgers University, Robert Wood Johnson University Health System, and Montclair State University, according to a biography on the webpage of his consulting agency, the Minerva Sphinx Group. Georgian Court, RWJ and Montclair said they could not discuss personnel matters. Rutgers confirmed his employment but said it had no record of sexual harassment. Shortly after his resignation, Agnew deleted all his social media accounts. Less than two weeks later, the student newspaper at Utica College reported he was a final candidate for an executive position there.
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