In Legal Aid Case, City Human Rights Commission Found That a NYC Employer May be Liable for Over $300,000 in Damages for Sexual Harassment

The Daily News reported on In the Matter of Monica Cardenas v. Automatic Meter Reading Corp. & Jerry Fund, in which The Legal Aid Society’s Employment Law Unit represented Monica Cardenas, a former office manager of a New York City-based meter reading company, before the New York City Commission on Human Rights in a matter seeking a remedy for the harassment and discrimination that she suffered as an employee. A hearing was held before City Human Rights Commission Administrative Law Judge Alessandra Zorgniotti who recommended that Ms. Cardenas be awarded over $300,000 in damages.

The allegations in the case involved discrimination based on her gender, the creation of a hostile work environment and the constructive discharge of Ms. Cardenas’ employment. After six days of hearings with lengthy testimony, numerous witnesses and corroborating evidence, Judge Zorgniotti recommended that the Commission on Human Rights award Ms. Cardenas backpay plus interest, front pay and compensatory damages totaling over $300,000 and award $75,000 to the City of New York as a civil penalty for the violations of the New York City Human Rights Law. The Administrative Law Judge also recommended that the company institute a written anti-discrimination policy and train its staff on the City Human Rights Law.

When asked about the Judge’s Report and Recommendation, Ms Cardenas stated: “I hope that this is not happening to others but by telling my story, I hope I can empower other women who may be going through the same thing to speak up and seek out justice. I also hope this sends out a message to employers that this type of behavior is unacceptable and unlawful.”

Legal Aid Society Employment Law Unit staffing for the case consisted of Supervising Attorney Karen Cacace and Staff Attorney Amy Hong.

March 18, 2014
New York Daily News
Judge: Give Record Damages Payout To Woman Who Endured Harassment From Pervy Boss
By Celeste Katz

A judge says the city Human Rights Commission should award record damages of hundreds of thousands of dollars and back wages to a woman whose randy 88-year-old employer subjected her to appalling behavior — including come-ons, mockery and even neck-licking.

Monica Cardenas, 47, who quit her job at a meter-reading company in 2011 after three years of “severe and pervasive” harassment, deserves $200,000 for “emotional distress,” plus nearly $95,000 in wages, Administrative Law Judge Allessandra Zorgniotti said in a report issued Friday.

Jerry Fund, Cardenas’ former boss at Automatic Meter Reading Corp., should also pay the Commission a $75,000 fine, Zorgniotti said.

Human Rights Commissioner Patricia Gatling told the Daily News "the egregious case of sexual harassment [sends] a clear message through record damages and a high fine recommended by [Zorgniotti] — that this type of activity is illegal in New York City and will not be tolerated.”

“What the complainant endured over years in order to keep her job is something no one should have to go through or even tolerate,” Gatling said. The trouble began when Cardenas, who was first hired at the company in 1995, became office manager in 2008 and started dealing with Fund on a daily basis, case records say.

Fund developed an unwelcome habit of asking Cardenas, who has a 9-year-old son, to “run away” with him, promising he’d “bring the Cialis and Viagra.” One day, as Cardenas worked at a filing cabinet, he shoved a rolled-up newspaper down the back of her pants, the report says.

Another day, he hit her twice on the rear end with an umbrella.

Comparing Cardenas to the centerfold of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, Fund -- who referred to women as "broads" -- remarked, “Wow, you used to have boobs like that,” the report says.

Cardenas said her jaw dropped one day when Fund, on speaker phone, told a client, “I have my office manager here, she’ll take care of you, but just keep it work-related, OK. I’m not saying she’s not good in the sack.” He also allegedly referred to her as a “hot Latina.”

Even the client told Fund that the comments were out of line.

Fund — who also put up a Daily News cartoon of a sexily dressed woman and added the label “Our Monica” — insisted during the case that he actually treated Cardenas better than other workers.

He argued that the incidents Cardenas complained about were harmless horseplay -- or, at worst, "petty slights" -- and indicative of a “father-daughter” or "father-confessor" relationship they shared.

In any case, Fund's side argued, according to the records, "Mr. Fund, who is 88 years old, is too old to engage in sexual activity," and Cardenas quit because he yelled at her over her "poor work performance."

Both sides can review the judge’s recommendation before the commission makes a final ruling.

The Legal Aid Society's Employment Law Unit, which represented Cardenas, praised her bravery in bringing the case: "We are gratified that Administrative Law Judge Zorgniotti recommended substantial damages and hope that this will cause all employers to recognize that sexual harassment is both illegal and potentially costly."