‘I don’t want to be in the darkness anymore’: Bronx case worker sues DSS over alleged sexual abuse, retaliation

Bronx Supreme Court building
A case worker on unpaid leave is suing the city Department of Social Services over accusations of abuse and retaliation.
Photo Camille Botello

Disclaimer: This story details various accusations of sexual abuse.

A homelessness case worker on unpaid leave is suing the New York City Department of Social Services (DSS) and two of its employees over allegations that an office manager subjected her to relentless sexual abuse while her supervisor turned a blind eye.

The suit, which was filed by Trishana Jones on Sept. 12 in Bronx County Supreme Court against DSS — as well as her alleged harasser and direct supervisor — claims that the office manager sexually abused her from 2019-2022 and the agency failed to properly investigate it after she reported it.

Her lawsuit centers on allegations against Dason Noble, an office manager at the Northern Boulevard Queens DSS office they worked at together, who had the authority to discipline her. Jones, who lives in the Edenwald Section of the Bronx, initially thought they might develop a consensual romantic relationship, but instead, he abused his authority, according to Jones’ claims.

“I deserve justice for what I had to endure, and the world needs to see what happened,” Jones, 38, told the Bronx Times in her first interview since filing the lawsuit. “And I don’t want to be in the darkness anymore.”

trishana jones
Trishana Jones, of Edenwald, is suing the city Department of Social Services. Photo courtesy Anna Carron

According to the suit, Noble regularly coerced her into having sex with him in the workplace despite her saying she did not want to. She also accuses him of making degrading sexual comments and groping her in the office, ordering her to take explicit pictures in the bathroom for him, locking her in a storage room with him and recording sexual encounters without her consent, forcing her to take a contraceptive pill and choking her nearly to the point of unconsciousness, which led to bruising on her neck.

In one instance, Jones walked home in the winter without a jacket because he took it while trying to lure her into the stock room, according to the complaint.

Jones is requesting back pay, interest, compensatory and punitive damages, past and present pain and suffering damages, as well as attorneys fees. She has been on unpaid leave since Nov. 7, 2022, having been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the alleged ordeal, according to her lawyers.

A DSS spokesperson told the Bronx Times that the agency cannot comment on ongoing litigation or investigations involving personnel, but that the well-being of staff is its “top priority.” The agency investigates, verifies facts and takes appropriate action — including prompt disciplinary action when warranted — when it learns of sexual harassment, the spokesperson said.

“We do not tolerate any instances of sexual harassment and take any such reports incredibly seriously,” the spokesperson added. “As we conduct a thorough investigation, we are committed to taking necessary action against any bad actors when warranted.”

Jones, who suffered abuse and homelessness growing up, was born in Florida and raised in Jamaica before moving to NYCHA’s Edenwald Houses as a child and then living in group homes in foster care, according to her legal team.

After earning her GED and working part time while gaining her college degree, she returned to Edenwald Houses as an adult, where she started a “Mommy and Me Reading Club” in 2014 following the birth of her daughter.

Jones began working as a caseworker for the Department of Homeless Services — part of DSS — in 2018 after working in early childhood education. Calling the job a “calling,” she said she was drawn to helping unhoused and HIV-positive New Yorkers navigate housing and health challenges because she could empathize with being homeless herself.

But after working hard to achieve stability in her life, Jones is once again struggling, and she feels robbed of both her paycheck and passion.

Trishana Jones helped raise money to renovate the Edenwald Library. Photo courtesy Anna Carron

According to the lawsuit, when Jones told Noble in January 2022 that she would file an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint if he did not stop, he left her a voicemail blackmailing her over pictures he had of her.

She filed the EEO complaint anyway, but no remedial action was taken, and Noble allegedly threatened her again over the phone, according to the suit.

The next month, Jones started therapy after reaching out to the Crime Victims Treatment Center and Safe Horizon, organizations that assist victims of sexual violence. With the help of Safe Horizon, Jones obtained a two-year order of protection against Noble in June 2022. However, Noble continued to contact Jones, according to the complaint.

When she requested work-from-home accommodations to avoid Noble in July 2022, Myrtha Robin, her direct supervisor, allegedly refused to entertain the idea and called it a “useless matter” in an email, saying she had “more important things” to focus on.

Robin also allegedly refused to help Jones obtain paid medical leave.

“It is our client’s hope that this lawsuit will not only obtain justice for her, but will prompt DSS to take significant steps to rid its work environment of sexual harassment, abuse and retaliation,” said James Vagnini, one of Jones’ attorneys secured through the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund. “If any New Yorkers have similarly suffered or witnessed abuse at DSS or any employer, we strongly encourage you to assert your rights. You are not alone, and your voice can help hold those in power accountable.”

According to the DSS spokesperson, the agency has sexual harassment prevention training for all staff.

“I just wish I had my life back,” Jones said. “I wish it didn’t happen, so I could continue to soar like an eagle. But it did happen, and I guess that’s why I was trying to deal with it on my own, but I couldn’t have done it on my own. I needed help.”

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes