Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg

Civil Rights Violations At Every Level In New York State Government

Not Merely The State Court System, Prosecutors, And Law Enforcement; The Thruway Authority As Well

It seems that more and more frequently persons engaged in any form of activity or relationship with New York State agencies find themselves seeking relief and redress in Federal Court. Julia Basile, a welder and a single mother of a young daughter, is employed by the New York State Thruway Authority, and has discovered, over the last five years, just what a “good old boys’ ” club the Thruway Authority is. She has also discovered how dangerous to life and limb things can quickly become in a hostile work environment. Most discouragingly,
she has learned that neither her employer nor her Union, Local 72 of the Teamsters, will protect her from sexual harassment, or even from retaliatory attempts on her life.

Basile, who began her employment with the State Thruway Authority in April, 2003, could never have imagined the intense sexual harassment she would encounter from Walter Spagnola, a painter and supervisor at her job site on the Tappan Zee Bridge. As the only female welder assigned to maintenance and repair of the bridge, Ms. Basile, 34, endured sexual harassment, stalking, unwanted touching and physical contact, and verbal abuse, in the presence of several male painters and associates, and co-conspirators of Spagnola.

Formal complaints to the Authority, as well as to New York State Police, and even to her union, fell repeatedly on deaf ears. Finally, after two years of abuse without letup, Ms. Basile filed a Civil Rights action in United States Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York. Following a jury trial in the spring of 2007, she was awarded $200,000 in total, $50,000 of which was punitive damages.

One would ordinarily assume that following the jury’s decision a year ago Spagnola and his gang would cool it. No such luck. On the contrary, Spagnola redoubled his stalking and harassment in retaliation. And, more specifically, in conspiracy with four other Thruway Authority employees, has allegedly attempted to cause Basile’s death.

In one alleged attempt on her life, Spagnola and his co-defendants placed her welding truck in gear, causing it to slowly roll forward on the bridge while she was suspended under the bridge, using an oxyactylene torch. Were it not for the fortunate intervention of Basile’s helper, who spotted the moving truck and placed it in park, the truck’s motion would have severed both the actylene and the oxygen lines running from the truck to Basile’s equipment under the bridge, likely resulting in a massive explosion and fireball.

Following their first attempt, the Defendants allegedly attempted to kill Basile by ordering her to work on a defectively rigged scaffolding, intended to drop her some 200 feet into the Hudson River below. A third attempt on her life involved a high pressure air hose allegedly punctured by the Defendants with the intention that the hose, under 1500 pounds of pressure, would rupture while Basile was using it, suspended beneath the bridge.

As it turned out, a co-worker used the air hose and Basile, on the surface of the bridge, observed the hose beginning to shred and turned off the compressor, thus preventing the air from blowing her co-worker off the scaffold, into the river. Back in Federal Court, as the result of Defendants’ retaliatory actions, Basile is now suing under Title VII, for gender discrimination and retaliation, as well as violations of her Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution, guaranteeing equal protection, as well as the New York State Human Rights Law.

Beginning within months of Basile’s being hired by the Authority, Spagnola is alleged to have embarked upon an open and notorious campaign of sexual harassment of her including, but not limited to, the following:

a) Repeatedly placing his hand on her thigh,

b) Regularly hugging her,

c) Routinely putting his arm around her,

d) Daily observing her through binoculars for extended periods of time, while she was suspended under the Tappan Zee Bridge performing welding repairs; conduct which Spagnola described to co-workers as Basile “sunbathing”,

e) Expressing himself to her in terms of obscenities,

f) Stalking her and staring at her,

g) Telephoning her at home, after work hours, to advise her that he wanted to “eat her like a sandwich”,

h) Inviting her to spend time with him at his “cabin” with the intent to engage in sexual relations,

i) Inviting himself to her home for dinner with the intent of engaging in sexual relations,

j) Making obscene gestures to her,

k) Forcibly grabbing her and attempting to stick his tongue down her throat,

l) Repeatedly standing within inches of her in a physically threatening manner while verbally degrading her in front of co-workers, and,

m) Cautioning her that if she did not accede to his sexual advances, he would have her fired.

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