Former Department of Public Works Coordinator Michael Griesemer used his position of authority to coerce a female subordinate into a sexual relationship at Rotterdam town offices and then unduly punished her after she broke it off, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed in federal court Monday.
The lawsuit claims Griesemer, who resigned after the allegations became public in April 2012, started making sexual overtures toward Vicki Carrieri shortly after she became a clerk in the town supervisor’s office in 2005. Griesemer also used his authority to move Carrieri to the DPW office in 2007, where he coerced her into having a salacious affair, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Albany.
“These incidents occurred at various locations, including but not limited to in Defendant Griesemer’s office, at town parks, at an abandoned town property, in town vehicles, and in defendant Griesemer’s home,” Attorney Joe Dougherty stated in the lawsuit. “While [Carrieri] tried to refuse these advances, she ultimately gave in to defendant Griesemer’s pressure and coercion.”
Griesemer also used his position to isolate Carrieri, so he could be alone with her, the lawsuit states. And when she rejected his advances, he would make comments insinuating that she could be laid off.
“He would also make comments about how the budget was tight and layoffs were coming when plaintiff maintained her refusal of defendant Griesemer’s advances and would not give in to his pressure,” the lawsuit states.
Carrieri ultimately broke off the sexual relationship with Griesemer in 2008, according to the lawsuit. But Griesemer’s harassment never relented. He became “rude, overtly hostile, aggressive, verbally abusive, and physically violent” toward Carrieri, the lawsuit states.
“Griesemer continually sexually harassed plaintiff by, among other things, routinely exposing himself to plaintiff, making sexually charged or sexually explicit statements to plaintiff, and making sexually charged and/or sexually explicit gestures towards plaintiff,” the lawsuit states.
Griesemer also retaliated against Carrieri with her job details, according to the lawsuit. Among other things, he altered her compensation, employment privileges and held her to a harsher standard than other workers in the office, the lawsuit claims.
Carrieri didn’t report Griesemer because she feared the ramifications of seeking help, the lawsuit states. This was in part because Griesemer threatened to “harm her reputation and credibility.”
Carrieri claims she reported a hostile work environment to other town officials, but was repeatedly ignored. She claims she notified Supervisor Harry Buffardi of the harassment in January 2012 and was subsequently moved out of the DPW office, but that Buffardi did nothing to prevent Griesemer from interacting with her via email or through work assignments.
The lawsuit asks that Carrieri be awarded an unspecified amount for damages, lost wages and other expenses. She claims she sustained a “loss of wages, loss of benefits, irreparable damage to her reputation, severe emotional distress, physical and mental health problems” as a result of the harassment.
John Aspland, an attorney representing Griesemer, hasn’t seen the lawsuit and declined to comment on its allegations. But he said his client intends to fight the case to the end.
“We’re going to defend the case vigorously,” he said.
Attempts to reach Jonathan Bernstein, an attorney representing the town, were unsuccessful.
Buffardi, who is named in the 25-page lawsuit, declined to comment on pending litigation. He did, however, indicate the town is willing to take the case to trial.
“The town has a very defensible position here,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to the facts coming out.”
Griesemer worked for Rotterdam for more than a decade and formerly led the town’s Democratic Committee. Then-town Supervisor John Paolino appointed Griesemer to the vacant highway superintendent’s position in 2002.
But after serving a year at the post, Griesemer lost his bid for re-election to Republican James Longo. Just two days before relinquishing control of the Highway Department, Griesemer ran unopposed to become chairman of the Democratic Committee.
Griesemer led the party for about a year, at which point Paolino brought him back into the fold at Town Hall. The supervisor spearheaded a reorganization of the Public Works Department that led to the dismissal of the town engineer and creation of the coordinator’s position.
At the time, Republicans accused Paolino of trying to give Griesemer a patronage job. The Town Board’s three Democrats voted to give Griesemer the non-civil service position in December 2003, and he subsequently resigned his leadership position in the party.
Despite allegations of cronyism over his appointment, Griesemer went on to remain in the post through several different administrations. Republican Steve Tommasone and Conservative Frank Del Gallo both reappointed him to the post, where he earned a salary of $69,000 in 2011.