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A lawyer who filed discrimination claims found to be frivolous and harassing has been ordered to pay a health insurer’s legal fees, out of her own pocket. “In light of the utter lack of factual or legal support for the claims [Diana] Andreacchio filed and continued to prosecute against Aetna, I conclude that [her] conduct in pressing these claims demonstrated willful bad faith, that went far beyond mere misunderstanding, bad judgment, or well-intentioned zeal,” U.S. District Judge Stephen Orlofsky wrote on Dec. 31 in Veneziano v. Long Island Pipe Fabrication & Supply Corp., No. 99-2753. The judge also noted Andreacchio’s “utterly unsupported” accusation that Tarleton David Williams Jr., Aetna U.S. Healthcare’s associate general counsel, threatened and intimidated her. Orlofsky said that their relationship soured and degenerated into a vendetta, adding, “I can only conclude that Ms. Andreacchio brought the claims against Aetna in order to harass Mr. Williams.” Orlofsky gave Aetna 30 days to file an affidavit to support its fees and said he would calculate them using the lodestar method. Andreacchio’s client, Steven Veneziano, is terminally ill from AIDS. He sued his employer, Long Island Pipe Fabrication and Supply Corp. in Westville, N.J., claiming discrimination and retaliation for complaining to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He alleged that his health benefits were terminated improperly when his employment ended. He charged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Law Against Discrimination. Orlofsky dismissed all but the ERISA claim, and in February awarded Veneziano $2,237 for Long Island Pipe’s failure to provide notice about extending his medical benefits under COBRA. In May, he awarded Veneziano $9,257 in legal fees against Long Island Pipe. Andreacchio has appealed the dismissed claims and the ERISA damages. Andreacchio contended that Aetna, in stopping benefits, acted as Veneziano’s constructive employer but “she was unable to demonstrate any control over Aetna by Long Island Pipe to support this argument,” Orlofsky found. The judge also noted that retaliation claims under the ADA do not lie against insurers such as Aetna and that the LAD excepts bona fide insurers from liability. Andreacchio, of Perkasksie, Pa., did not return calls requesting comment, nor did Aetna attorney Williams. Edward Wardell, a partner with Kelley, Wardell & Craig in Haddonfield, N.J., who represents Aetna, declines to comment. Jeffrey Naness, a partner with Naness, Chaiet & Naness in Jericho, N.Y., who represents Long Island Pipe, says his client also deserved fees.

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