Recently, a jury in the U. S. District Court in Hartford, Connecticut, returned a unanimous defense verdict in favor of our clients, a bar/restaurant group based in Stamford, Connecticut. The victory, secured by Brian Colistra (lead counsel) and William Salerno (second chair), is particularly impressive in light of the national spotlight shining on high profile sexual harassment and hostile work environment allegations.
The plaintiff was employed as an event coordinator at a bar/restaurant owned and operated by our clients. She brought the following federal and state claims: sexual harassment, hostile work environment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, retaliatory termination, unreasonable intrusion on the seclusion of another, unreasonable publicity of private facts, and unpaid overtime.
Her case was based upon her claim that a basement office surveillance video captured her in a state of complete undress, and the footage was viewed by a manager and shown to at least one other employee. Further allegations included claims that she was subjected to repeated postings of images of male genitalia, discussions by and between management regarding sex and sexual subjects, lewd gawking from co-workers, and an ongoing practice of managers and staff members changing their clothes in the plaintiff’s presence in the basement office during her employment.
After the trial, the jury of 5 women and 3 men were interviewed by the attorneys from both sides. The jurors identified Mr. Colistra’s 12-hour cross-examination of the plaintiff and his closing argument as critical to their final decision. Highlights of the cross-examination included getting the plaintiff to repeatedly admit that details contained in prior sworn statements were false or exaggerated, including her college education, work hours, and salary. The jurors also noted that Mr. Colistra’s cross-examination proved the bar had a valid, non-discriminatory business reason to terminate the plaintiff by engaging in a dogged effort to admit into evidence and review with the plaintiff dozens of emails about her subpar job performance. Pre-trial preparation also uncovered controversial Facebook postings that he used to discredit the plaintiff’s claim that harassment had left her anxious, reclusive, and unwilling to resume her prior lifestyle.
One of the signature moments of the trial occurred when the plaintiff was confronted with a text message she sent to the business’ general manager in which she advised that she would be late to work because she suffered a miscarriage the previous evening. Mr. Colistra got the plaintiff to admit she had lied to her manager and had not miscarried the previous evening, but rather had a scheduled laser facial treatment. In the post-trial interviews, several jurors expressed their shock about this testimony and weighed it heavily against the plaintiff’s credibility. Another indictment of the plaintiff’s credibility involved her claiming she would only change in front of the surveillance camera in an emergency, but she was confronted with a second video, where she exposed herself while removing undergarments. After seeing the footage, the plaintiff conceded on this occasion there was no emergency necessitating a clothing change, rather she admitted that she changed because she was sweaty.
The jury took less than five hours to deliver a unanimous defense verdict, denying the plaintiff monetary damages, and relieving our clients of the statutory duty to pay the Plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees and the possibility of punitive damages.
Mr. Colistra, a partner at Fitzpatrick & Hunt, Pagano and Aubert, LLP, acknowledged the hard work and tireless efforts of Mr. Salerno, also a partner at the firm, adding the defense verdict would never have been achieved without his efforts and who, in addition to aiding in trial preparation, served as a constant sounding board and advisor throughout the trial.