A lawyer has been accused in an Essex County discrimination suit of blurting out a profanity when she learned her associate was pregnant. But the defendant says she’s being sued because she resisted allowing an attorney in her firm to work on a part-time basis.
Toni Belford Damiano replied, ”That’s great, what the [expletive] am I going to do now?” when family law practitioner Nicole Casciola announced her first pregnancy in September 2010, according to the suit, which accuses Damiano of demonstrating pregnancy animus over the births of Casciola’s three children.
Damiano, who is municipal court judge in Woodland Park, New Jersey, and heads an eight-lawyer family law firm in Little Falls, New Jersey, faces claims of gender discrimination, hostile work environment, retaliation and failure to accommodate a disability in the suit, which was filed Jan. 10.
Kevin Barber, the attorney who represents Casciola, called it “remarkable” that pregnant women still face such mistreatment at work.
“Even female lawyers employed by other female lawyers can be victims of this kind of discrimination. The actions that Ms. Casciola alleges Ms. Damiano and her law firm took against her because of her pregnancies have no place in a professional work environment or in our society today,” said Barber, of Niedweske Barber Hager in Morristown, New Jersey.
According to the suit, during her first pregnancy, Casciola asked if another associate could be sent to her court appearances to faraway locations when winter weather left roads icy, but Damiano angrily rejected the request, saying Casciola should go out on disability leave if she could not make it to court appearances. But that response fails to acknowledge that attorneys at the firm frequently covered appearances for one another, the suit claims.
When Casciola was pregnant with her second child in 2016, she and Damiano again clashed over her coverage of court appearances that were far away. Casciola was concerned about being alone in inclement weather and far away from the hospital, according to the suit. Also during her second pregnancy, Casciola was warned by a partner at the firm, Steven Segalas, that she was going to be fired and should hire an attorney, the suit claims.
After Casciola’s second child was born, Damiano made disparaging comments in the presence of co-workers, such as “please, whatever you do, don’t tell me you are pregnant again,” according to the suit.
In May 2017, when Casciola learned she was pregnant with her third child, she withheld the news from Damiano. But on Sept. 5, 2017, she notified Damiano that she was pregnant and experiencing complications and sought accommodations. Two days later, Damiano called Casciola into her office and said her part-time position would be eliminated at the end of the year. Damiano also said at the meeting that Casciola’s billable hours were insufficient, a charge Casciola denies.
Then, on Sept. 8, Damiano’s son, R. Luke Damiano, the office manager, accused Casciola of lying about her billings, a claim she says she refuted.
On Sept. 18, Damiano told Casciola in a letter that she was welcome to continue with the firm if she was willing to work full time. On Oct. 12, Casciola responded in writing that she would not accept the full-time position and that she felt she was terminated. Casciola subsequently gave birth to her third child, and she remains on maternity leave.
Michael Epstein and April Gilmore of the Epstein Law Firm in Rochelle Park, New Jersey, represent Damiano and her firm. Epstein said Damiano has been highly accommodating to Casciola and other women attorneys at the firm when they are pregnant. But the firm is within its rights to require all of its attorneys to work full time, said Epstein. Casciola does not require an accommodation because she is no longer pregnant, he said.
“The allegation of discrimination, we submit, has no merit,” said Epstein.