Ex-DA Violante sex harassment case settled for $335,000 (in case you didn’t know)

In case you missed it, for the record, and because, if you are a resident of Niagara County, you probably helped pay for it: Niagara County settled the sexual harassment lawsuit against former DA Michael Violante for $335,000.

It happened 10 months ago, and there has been hardly a word reported, despite the fact that it made headline news in January, 2015 when the lawsuit was filed.

The story, as readers recall, was that Elizabeth Donatello, a former assistant District Attorney, sued the County in federal court, claiming her boss, former DA Violante, violated her Civil Rights and the New York State Human Rights Law.

Elizabeth Donatello

Donatello alleged Violante “created a hostile and unwelcoming atmosphere for women,” “that women were held to a wholly different standard than male employees” and that Violante “openly judg[ed] women on their appearance, including their weight, hair style and breast size.”

In her complaint, Donatello alleged Violante:

  • informed her that a female co-worker was “losing a lot of weight, but not her “boobs.”
  •  said a coworker was dressing like a bimbo and wearing “slutty” shoes.
  • said only skirts below the knee and conservative shoes were permitted for female attorneys but he only enforced the policy for the younger, thinner women.
  •  said men didn’t have to worry about facelifts and “boob jobs,” saying this to Donatello as “he put his arm around her, stared at her chest and said: ‘Not that you have to worry about getting a boob job.'”
  • asked Donatello if another co-worker had her “boobs done.” He told her they looked “higher and fuller.”
  • said he did not want women in the office to get pregnant because they take the full maternity leave.
  • commented to another employee in Donatello’s presence that the employee looked good, while patting his stomach, adding “You always look good from here up; now from here down is starting to shape up too,” while waving from his neck downward.
  • commented on Donatello’s hair style, after she had her hair cut short, stating “is your hairdresser pissed at you?”
  • said a female employee lost so much weight that she was finally beginning to “look like a woman.”
  • commented on a case in which an intoxicated, unconscious woman had been raped that, “Can you believe we’re prosecuting this shit?” He added “that’s what boys do; you try to get the girl drunk and then have sex.” When she expressed her displeasure with his comment, Violante said, “Well, I’d try to make sure it was my girlfriend.”
  • vocalized his desire to not hire women who he believes were going to have children, and “commented” on his preference that women employees use birth control or have tubal ligations.

In response, the County denied most of the allegations, and added that Violante, who oversaw 37 employees, including 22 attorneys, had a number of female employees – including some of the highest ranking prosecutors with the most responsibility – having given birth and taken maternity leaves. On one occasion, three top female prosecutors were all out on maternity leave at the same time.

In addition, the DA’s office, on multiple occasions, held a weight loss competition modeled on “The Biggest Loser” television competition. Both male and female employees participated.

When employees lost a substantial amount of weight during the competition, Violante complimented both male and female contestants.

Former Niagara County DA Mike Violante

Violante was first elected in 2008. He suddenly resigned in March 2016, without giving a reason.

Niagara County Attorney Claude Joerg said, “The county… adamantly denies Ms. Donatello’s allegations and is confident that the evidence will prove that (her) allegations are without merit.”

The case was handled for the county by outside counsel. The county hired three female attorneys, Brooke D. Leone, Sharon M. Porcellio and Erin S. Torcello to represent the county.

Violante never publicly commented on the case or why he resigned.

Donatello’s attorney, Andrew Fleming, said he believed Violante quit “as a result of other women coming forward to complain,” adding that there were two additional sexual harassment complaints filed by other women in Violante’s office.

In April 2017, the Donatello case was settled for $335,000.

It is not presently known if county taxpayers paid additional money for other sexual harassment claims. In fairness, it is something they have a right to know – since they pay for it.

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