A former personal injury paralegal at a small Waterbury-based firm has filed a civil suit claiming the firm’s owner repeatedly engaged in sexual harassment that was allegedly condoned by the staff.
The lawsuit comes during the height of the #MeToo movement regarding sexual behavior and misconduct in the workplace.
In her Feb. 6 lawsuit filed in Hartford Superior Court against the Law Offices of Brian J. Mongelluzzo LLC, Meghan Lyon said during her 22 months at the firm she was subjected to crude comments and activity on the part of Mongelluzzo. Lyon claims the alleged conduct, including explicit comments about her body parts, was known to many in the office, including Melissa Longo, the director of finance and administration and Lyon’s direct supervisor, who is also Mongelluzzo’s sister-in-law.
Lyon claims the alleged behavior was nonstop and began during her first week of work. On her second day at work, the lawsuit states, Mongelluzzo told Longo that Lyon’s “ass looked great in those pants,” From there, the comments and alleged actions became more explicit, according to the complaint.
Among other things, the lawsuit states Mongelluzzo commented on the growth and size of Lyon’s breasts after she became pregnant and insinuated that she was having an affair with an attorney at the firm.
When she returned from maternity leave, Lyon alleges Mongelluzzo made comments like, “I can’t believe you popped out a baby a few weeks ago” while discussing how good she looked. After maternity leave Lyon said she was assigned to work in a small office with a prop skeleton that had a long black sock stuffed with paper towels draped from the hips representing a long penis. She also alleges the office was covered with photos of Mongelluzzo and another male attorney in bathing suits or flexing shirtless, with sexual organs drawn on them. Similar pictures, the suit states, were in the men’s and women’s bathrooms.
In another instance, it’s alleged, staff were required in the summer of 2016 to wear T-shirts on Friday’s. “The T-shirt provided to Ms. Lyon was much too tight and sheer, leaving her breasts exposed.”
The lawsuit contends Lyon gave four weeks’ notice on Feb. 20, 2017, that she was leaving the firm. At that the end of that day, the lawsuit states, Mongelluzzo and Longo met with Lyon. “During that meeting they suggested that she might be blamed for a malpractice case where the law firm had missed the statute of limitations. This was clearly a threat against Ms. Lyon not to complain about her treatment at Mongelluzzo Law.”
Mongelluzzo referred all comment to his attorney, Anthony Minchella of Minchella & Associates in Middlebury. Minchella is representing Mongelluzzo and the firm.
“My client respects the media’s role in all cases, but my only comment is we expect our position to be fully vindicated,” Minchella said Wednesday.
Longo did not respond to a request for comment. Longo’s attorney, Giovanna Weller of Carmody Torrance Sandak & Hennessey, declined comment Wednesday.
Lyon is represented by Lewis Chimes and Mary-Kate Smith, both of the Law Offices of Lewis Chimes in Stamford.
Chimes said Wednesday he was “ashamed of my profession.”
“I’m disgusted by this behavior by a lawyer and ashamed of my profession,” Chimes said. “This lawsuit is a message that this kind of behavior can’t happen in the legal profession or anywhere. I’m very sad that I have to bring this case against another lawyer, especially in this time when sensitivity on these types of issues should be heightened.”
Chimes, who said Lyon is working as a paralegal at another firm, declined to say how much he is seeking in damages or whether he wants Mongelluzzo brought up before the Connecticut Bar Association or other entities to face sanctions.
The lawsuit comes the same month that the Second Circuit Judicial Council said it would take no action against former federal appellate court Judge Alex Kozinksi because his retirement deprived the panel of any authority to “do anything more.”
Kozinski, a former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, was accused of sexual misconduct in December by six former clerks or staffers. The Washington Post, which first reported the alleged misconduct, reported that Kozinski showed them pornographic images on numerous occasions in his court chambers.
Lyon’s lawsuit contains five counts: violation of Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act—sexual harassment and hostile work environment; aiding and abetting by defendant Mongelluzzo in violation of Connecticut General Statute 46a-60(b((5), against Mongelluzzo individually and Longo individually; intentional infliction of emotional distress against both Mongelluzzo and Longo; negligent infliction of emotional distress against Mongelluzzo and Longo; and invasion of privacy—intrusion by seclusion against Longo. The latter charge relates to Lyon taking a photo of herself wearing the company T-shirt at Longo’s request. Longo, it’s alleged, took it upon herself to blow up the photograph, zooming in on Lyon’s breasts and the firm’s logo.