By ERIN ROLL
A former stylist and manager at Bangz Salon and Wellness Spa has accused the salon’s owner of sexual assault and harassment, and alleges she lost her job after telling her supervisors about the incident.
In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Passaic County Superior Court, the stylist accused co-owner Richard Cronk of forcing her to put her hand on his genitals in his office at the South Fullerton Avenue business, in October 2020.
The stylist further alleged Cronk and other staffers routinely made unwelcome remarks of a sexual nature at the salon, contributing to a toxic work environment.
The complaint refers to the alleged assault as “extreme and outrageous” and “beyond all bounds of decency.”
“My client really just wanted to go to work and do her job,” Juan Fernandez, whose Morristown law firm is representing the stylist, said. “She’s really disappointed that it had to come to this.” But he said there was no other course of action she could take.
Fernandez said the case is being heard in Passaic County because the stylist is a resident of that county.
A Bangz staff member who answered the phone told Montclair Local Feb. 18 that the salon would not comment on the matter.
The stylist is identified only as Jane Doe in the filing due to the nature of the allegations. The suit seeks damages from Cronk for alleged sexual battery, assault, invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress. It also seeks damages from the salon for alleged wrongful termination, negligent hiring and supervision, and failing to maintain a safe work environment with clear anti-harassment policies.
According to the complaint, the stylist was looking for a ruler for another staffer who was measuring a length of hair for a Locks of Love donation, when she went upstairs to use an office known as “the Nest” that was used by Cronk and by Dominick Sansevero, the salon’s other co-owner.
There, the stylist alleges, Cronk gave her the ruler, unzipped his pants and pulled out his genitals. The lawsuit says he forced the office door shut when the stylist tried to leave, grabbed her hand, and “clamped” her hand around his genitals.
“During the two days after the incident, Plaintiff did not leave her room. She was so uncomfortable, embarrassed, and humiliated by Defendant Cronk’s action that she could not get out of bed. In fact, Plaintiff did not have the strength to eat or shower,” the complaint said.
On Oct. 22, the woman met with Sansevero and manager Anne Semmel, and told them what had happened, the lawsuit says.
“In response, Sansevero twice told Plaintiff, in substance and in part, ‘sorry, it happened,’” the lawsuit says.
The stylist was wrongfully terminated for voicing her concerns, the lawsuit says.
“When Plaintiff reported the incident, the corrective action taken was to apologize to the Plaintiff and to accept her decision that she could no longer work at Bangz since no action was taken,” the lawsuit says.
The complaint does not mention if any criminal charges were ever pursued as a result of the alleged assault, and Fernandez said he himself was not aware of any such charges. Essex County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Katherine Carter said there was no record of any criminal case filed in that venue regarding Cronk.
In the months leading up to the incident, the lawsuit alleges, Cronk and another staffer routinely made sexual remarks, including describing visits to strip clubs, or made remarks about the stylist’s clothing or appearance.
“On three occasions, Defendant Cronk commented on Plaintiff’s clothing and/or breasts. Specifically, during these occasions, Defendant Cronk leered at Plaintiff’s breasts and commented, ‘the girls are out,’” the lawsuit says.
It alleges Cronk and another staffer, identified only as K.M., would often go to strip clubs. And it says K.M. would describe the outings, including sexual contact with exotic dancers.
“Even though K.M. engaged in open sexual banter with Defendant Bangz’s employees and/or customers, K.M. boasted that he was ‘protected’ because of K.M.’s friendship with Defendant Cronk,” the lawsuit says.
The stylist says in the lawsuit said she did not report this because she feared retaliation or punishment from Cronk or another manager.
The salon is located in a former Masonic temple on South Fullerton Avenue, and provides day spa services as well as hair and nail treatments.