A former senior staff attorney with the state Appellate Division, First Department’s disciplinary committee failed to get her employment discrimination case revived by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit Wednesday.
In a summary order, the panel of Circuit Judges Debra Ann Livingston, Gerard Lynch and Denny Chin in Corrado v. New York State Unified Court System, 16-1493-cv, found U.S. District Chief Judge Dora Irizarry appropriately dismissed with prejudice the pro se case brought by Nicole Corrado.
Corrado leveled substantial allegations against state court officials in briefs filed by her counsel on appeal, Langone & Associates name attorney Richard Langone. According to Corrado, the disciplinary committee “turned a blind eye” towards the sexual harassment she faced from two co-workers. Her complaints led to retribution, she said, from “several high-ranking officials” in the court system. Among the named defendants in the original suit was then-Presiding Justice Luis Gonzalez, and the disciplinary committee chairman, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett of counsel attorney Roy Reardon.
However, none of this was at issue in the federal appeal. Rather, the panel was focused on Irizarry’s dismissal of Corrado’s suit with prejudice.
Corrado’s version is one in which the defendants “did everything in their power” to obstruct and delay the case, while the appellant struggled to find suitable counsel to represent her. According to her appeal brief, Corrado was forced to fire three attorneys due to their “glaring incompetence.
“[B]ecause of the high-ranking status of several of the named defendants, it proved extremely difficult for Ms. Corrado to find capable counsel willing to represent her in this matter,” Corrado stated. “Many attorneys, especially those who practice in the jurisdiction of the Appellate Division, First Department, simply would not prosecute a lawsuit against the [disciplinary committee] for fear of retribution.”
Given the circumstances, Corrado argues she was seeking the district court’s permission to “discontinue” the case, in light of the significant legal representation issues she faced.
However, Irizarry opted to dismiss the case, with prejudice. On appeal, the federal appellate panel found Irizarry’s reasoning and actions to be sound.
In the April 2016 letter at question, the panel quotes Corrado stating to Irizarry on multiple occasions that she “cannot continue,” wished to “discontinue” and that the case should be “discontinued,” stating on more than one occasion, according to the summary order, that “she ‘would not and could not proceed pro se.’”
“The dismissal was a matter well within the district court’s discretion in light of the text of Corrado’s April 2016 letter and the full record, including Corrado’s persistence below in refusing to proceed pro se and the fact that the case had been pending for four years,” the panel found.
Corrado had also appealed Irizarry’s dismissal of a continuous practice and policy of discrimination claim, and a request, if remanded, for a different judge to be assigned. Given the dismissal affirmation, the panel dismissed these as well.
In a statement, court administration spokesman Lucian Chalfen said court administrators were gratified by the appellate affirmation, and Irizarry’s dismissal with prejudice.
Corrado’s attorney Langone said he and his client were disappointed in the decision. He noted that the panel’s decision rested, in part, on precedent holding attorneys to higher standards as pro se litigants.
“She had a viable lawsuit,” Langone said. “She just couldn’t cope with the circumstances.”