Justice Engoron (NYLJ/Rick Kopstein)
With strong language and a swipe at defense counsel, a judge in Manhattan refused to dismiss a sexual harassment claim filed by a woman who said her boss exposed himself to her, propositioned her and made her stand next to him while he urinated.
“This court is aghast that any attorney would, with a straight face, claim that the conduct alleged does not fall squarely within the city and state anti-harassment laws,” Manhattan Acting Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron (See Profile) wrote in Thomas v. EONY, 158961/13. “Talk about a hostile work environment!”
The case involves a Brooklyn woman, Sherina Thomas, who claims she answered an advertisement for child models on behalf of her own children. Thomas contends that when she met the owner of EONY LLC, David Shavolian, he demanded that she display her breasts, describing them as “toys,” and fondled her, later offering her a job as his receptionist.
Over the next year, Thomas said she was subjected to a bizarre and continuing pattern of sexual harassment and discrimination, ranging from demands by Shavolian that she accompany him to the restroom and stand with him as he relieved himself to explicit propositions. She quit in May 2013 and brought actions against the company and Shavolian under both state and New York City laws.
Shavolian’s attorney, Susan Karten of Susan M. Karten & Associates, moved to dismiss the action for failure to state a cause of action. Engoron bluntly rejected the motion.
“If defendants are correct, these [anti-discrimination and anti-harassment] laws, and similar ones throughout the country, would have to be scrapped as ineffective and rewritten from scratch,” Engoron wrote. “Shavolian seems to have hired plaintiff principally so that he could sexually harass her, and, once she was beholden to him for her employment, to have followed through completely.”
Engoron said it was conceivable that since “Shavolian showed his true colors” before he hired her, she may have accepted the job with the aim of bringing this lawsuit.
“Be that as it may, the city and state have made clear that the conduct alleged is unacceptable in the workplace and have imposed liability for it, and in this court’s humble opinion, rightly so,” Engoron wrote.
Karten said in an interview that she expects the case will be dismissed in light of a parallel federal action, Thomas v. EONY and Shavolian, 13-cv-8512, pending in the Southern District. If not, she said she would seek Engoron’s removal from the case for bias.
“We believe [Engoron] went far beyond what he should have said in this opinion,” Karten said. “To not know anything about this case and not know anything about this plaintiff and not know anything about history here and just assume that there is something wrong with us challenging it, when there are clearly grounds, shows a predisposition toward the plaintiff. There is a history with this woman.”
Karten said it’s “insanity” to believe that Thomas would accept a job with Shavolian if, as she claims, he demanded that she display her breasts before offering her a position.
“[Engoron] just accepted everything she said and castigated us for daring to address the fact that there are parts of her complaint that don’t meet standards,” Karten said.
Thomas is represented by W. Gordon Kaupp, of counsel to the Arce Law Group. Bryan Arce acknowledged “the judge used some very strong language,” but said the comments were germane and appropriate.
“I understand that defendants have to try to dismiss frivolous claims,” Arce said. “But anybody would find the claims in this case over the top and clearly in violation of the law.”
The company, EONY, is represented by Claude Castro of Claude Castro & Associates in Manhattan.