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Todaro v. Siegel Fenchel & Peddy

September 25, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seybert, District Judge


The Court held a jury trial in this matter on August 11-22, 2008. The jury found in favor of Plaintiff Maria H. Moscarelli on her Title VII/NYSHRL claim for sex and/or pregnancy discrimination, and awarded her $203,838.70 in back pay, $500,000 in punitive damages, and $1.00 in nominal damages. The jury also found in favor of Plaintiff Jacquelyn Todaro's Equal Pay Act claim, awarding her $16,499.75 in damages. However, the jury found against Ms. Todaro on her Title VII claim. Defendants have now moved to set aside the verdict, and for judgment as a matter of law in their favor on all claims. For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.


I. Maria H. Moscarelli

Ms. Moscarelli began working as a paralegal for Defendant Siegel, Fenchel & Peddy, P.C. ("the Firm") in October 1987. (Tr. 309). In or around 1995, Ms. Moscarelli was promoted, becoming head of the Firm's tax certiorari department. (Tr. 310). In this capacity, Ms. Moscarelli supervised three full-time employees, and some additional part-time workers. (Tr. 310). During the entire time she worked for the Firm, Ms. Moscarelli never once received anything in writing that reflected negatively on her job performance. (Tr. 321). And, except for 1998 and 2002, Ms. Moscarelli received salary increases every year. (Tr. 321). Those were the two years that Ms. Moscarelli was pregnant. (Tr. 321).

Ms. Moscarelli had her second child on May 4, 2003, and took 12 weeks maternity leave. (Tr. 334). She returned to work on August 11, 2003, but was terminated only 11 days later, on August 22, 2003. (Tr. 334-35). Ms. Moscarelli testified that, in her termination meeting, Defendant Tracie P. Peddy began by telling her that she "had been out quite a bit the last nine months," which Ms. Moscarelli understood to be a reference to her maternity leave. (Tr. 335). Ms. Moscarelli also testified that, in this meeting, Ms. Peddy also expressed dissatisfaction with how Ms. Moscarelli had "handled the computer system." (Tr. 335).

Defendants claim that they terminated Ms. Moscarelli because of her poor performance. In particular, Defendants contend that Ms. Moscarelli twice failed to deliver tax appeal petitions to the Nassau County Clerk on a timely basis, nearly causing the Firm to miss filing deadlines. (Def. Br. at 6-12). In addition, Defendants argue, they realized during Ms. Moscarelli's second maternity leave that the certiorari department functioned effectively without her. (Def. Br. at 2). Defendants claim that they terminated her for these legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons, and not due to any bias against women or pregnancy.

In response, Ms. Moscarelli notes that the Firm had a Personnel Manual which set forth a "progressive diciplin[ary]" policy for addressing employee performance issues. (See Pl. Ex. 10 at 20-26). Under this policy, employees first receive a verbal warning, following by a written warning if performance does not improve, followed by probation and, only then, termination. (Id.). According to Ms. Moscarelli, she never received a written warning and was never placed on probation. (Tr. 352-354). In fact, Ms. Moscarelli testified that the only written comments she received from Defendants were thank-you notes and gifts for her hard work.

(Tr. 315-320). The Firm's failure to follow its own disciplinary policy before terminating her for alleged performance reasons, Ms. Moscarelli argues, supports a finding that the Firm's purported reasons for terminating her were pretextual.

II. Jacquelyn Todaro

Ms. Todaro joined the Firm in August 1996, as a temporary secretary. (Tr. 69). The Firm asked Ms. Todaro to remain as a law clerk and, following her admission to the Bar, promoted her to the position of Associate attorney. (Tr. 69-70). Between 1996 and 2002, Ms. Todaro received a substantial salary increase every year. (Tr. 155). By 2002, she was earning $102,500 per year. (Tr. 154). In November 2002, she told the Firm that she was pregnant. (Tr. 155). On January 1, 2003, the Firm cut Ms. Todaro's salary by 25%, to $76,875 per year. At the same time, the Firm increased the compensation of Robert Litt, a male associate, to approximately $97,000 per year. (Tr. 653). Ms. Todaro began a maternity leave on April 25, 2003, but continued receiving her reduced salary through May 24, 2003. On July 21, 2003, Ms. Todaro resigned from the Firm, claiming constructive discharge due to sex and pregnancy discrimination, and an alleged hostile work environment.

III. The Firm's Treatment of Women

At trial, Plaintiffs adduced significant evidence indicating both that the Firm's employees made repeated derogatory comments about women, and that the Firm itself treated men and women differently. Among other things, testimony indicated that:

* Defendant Bill SIEGEL consistently made comments regarding how female attorneys are "difficult" and/or "obnoxious." (Tr. 80-82, 633-634, 709-710, 962);

* On one occasion, Mr. SIEGEL approached Ms. Todaro and two other female attorneys and asked "what are you ladies doing here so late? Don't you have husbands or boyfriends to go home to?" (Tr. 82);

* Mr. SIEGEL suggested that Ms. Todaro should buy a "very skimpy . . . playboy bunny outfit" for her upcoming trip. (Tr. 83);

* On one occasion, Mr. SIEGEL asked why "they let women into the courtroom." (Tr. 413);

* Another attorney, Andy Cangemi commented to female attorneys about paying them too much. (Tr. 93);

* Mr. Cangemi did not offer a female law clerk a full-time position because he did not want another female associate. (Tr. 94);

* Defendant Saul Fenchel called one female partner a "slut" and referred to her and Defendant Tracie Peddy as "joyless shiksas*fn1 ." (Tr. 85);

* Mr. Fenchel also suggested that a certain paralegal's pregnancy created "the perfect opportunity to get rid of her," and that this paralegal was subsequently fired shortly ...

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