A female labor lawyer is pursuing claims against a union’s regional director who allegedly invited the attorney to don a bikini after a negotiation, showed her explicit photos on his computer and invited her to a sex toy party.
Barbara Resnick, a staff lawyer for United Public Service Employees Union (UPSEU), sued Ronald Suraci and the union, claiming he sexually harassed her and that she was terminated after she failed to acquiesce to his sexual advances.
Middletown Superior Court Judge Julie Aurigemma recently dismissed four of the eight counts, ruling them to be either legally insufficient or duplicative.
Suraci’s lawyer, Hugh Cuthbertson, of Zangari Cohn Cuthbertson in New Haven, explained that “the court ruled you can’t recall punitive damages” under the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act. The judge also granted the defense motion to strike the plaintiff’s allegation that UPSEU committed intentional defamation, because intentional defamation is not a recognized cause of action in the state.
Meanwhile, Cuthbertson said that he and his clients “vehemently dispute” the existing four counts. “Anybody can say anything in a complaint,” Cuthbertson said. “This is a disputed case.”
Resnick’s lawyer, Alexa Lindauer, of Beck & Eldergill in Manchester, sees things much differently. She said that the behavior by the union leader is “unthinkable in the workplace.”
As for the union itself, Lindauer said: “Instead of investigating, they embarked on this campaign of retribution.”
Resnick attempted to keep her distance from the director after spurning his advances. In response, according to court documents, Suraci responded by harassing and embarrassing her, calling her “useless,” saying she has “done nothing,” and stating that a “monkey could do what [she does].” He also told her to “find another (expletive) job,” and leave the union, according to the complaint.
Resnick, a Clinton resident, complained to the union president and in February 2012 filed a formal complaint with the union. After that, the union transferred her to an inconveniently located office, and they unreasonably increased her workload, she claims. They also forced her to work closely with Suraci, even though doing so was detrimental to her psychological health, according to court documents.
In February of March 2012, Resnick filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities, and the state Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She was fired in June 2012 by the union, which claims Resnick misled officials during the hiring process, was incompetent, had a poor work ethic and was guilty of “misconduct and wrongdoing.”
Resnick says those charges are all false.
As for the lawsuit, Lindauer said the issue of whether punitive damages are available under CFEPA is still being decided in the state Appellate Court and state Supreme Court, so her client could still prevail on those claims.
Cuthbertson said that Suraci is still the union’s regional director. “He’s still employed,” Cuthbertson said.