As Expected, Sex Prosecutor’s Claims Against DA Will Likely Go to Federal Court
By Tony Farina
It now appears almost certain that Niagara County prosecutor Elizabeth Donatello will take her claims of discrimination in pay and work conditions at the district attorney’s office to federal court after a brief stop at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Niagara County Attorney Claude Joerg has formally responded to Donatello’s claims in a letter to her attorney, Andrew Fleming, rejecting her allegations of discrimination against her by the district attorney’s office and ruling out any discussion of a possible settlement in the case, according to Fleming, saying the county will defend against any legal action that is brought in the matter.
As we reported in last week’s editions, Joerg had stated in an email response to the Niagara Falls Reporter that the $30,000 disparity in pay between Donatello and Richard Zucco, another prosecutor in the Special Victims Unit, “is in no way gender related,” suggesting it had more to do with longevity and a county pay freeze. Zucco, 61, who joined the DA’s office in 1992, makes $97, 515 per year compared to $68,253 for Donatello, 43, who has been with the DA’s office since 2004.
Donatello, who was named prosecutor of the year in 2012 by Buffalo Crime Stoppers, has worked exclusively in the Special Victims Unit since joining the DA’s office, handling highly sensitive prosecutions of sex crimes against children.
Attorney Fleming said Donatello “performs the lion’s share” of work in the unit and has obtained a “lot of convictions” compared to Zucco. Fleming said his letter to Violante also included claims that “women are treated differently in that office than men,” saying she has been a victim. Fleming said Donatello’s possible legal action is the result of her efforts to resolve the pay disparity and other issues “falling on deaf ears.”
Violante praised Donatello in an interview with Niagara Falls Reporter Founding Editor Mike Hudson last week during which he also defended his office against any claims of discrimination based on sex, saying he was proud of the contributions made by the women in his office, noting that two of his top three deputies are women.
According to Hudson’s story, Violante denies any suggestion that he sexually harassed Donatello or that the office is a hostile work environment for women. When reached by telephone about the claims by Donatello’s attorney that he works about 20 to 25 hours a week for his nearly $100,000 salary, Zucco said “I don’t care to comment.”
Fleming says he expects to bring Donatello’s claims to the EEOC by the end of the month and that it could take six months for the commission to complete its investigation. At the end of the six-month period, Fleming said the EEOC could issue a “right to sue letter” or could schedule mediation efforts. The veteran attorney said in all likelihood, the case will wind up in federal court.
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SEP 10, 2013