Markowitz grilled in discrimination suit

YourNabe.comBy Thomas Tracy

Borough President Marty Markowitz was put on the hot seat Friday when he was grilled for nearly four hours about a discrimination lawsuit filed against him back in 2007.

The deposition, which was held in Borough Hall, was the first major hurdle in the suit filed by former Borough President Communications Director Regina Weiss. A second defendant in the suit, Markowitz’s former chief of staff Gregory D. Atkins, was deposed on Tuesday.

In her suit, Weiss alleges that Markowitz sat idly by as Atkins subjected her to repeated gender and age discrimination. At the same time, young male staffers were treated with kid gloves.

Weiss resigned from her post in 2006 after being “subjected to untenable working conditions that were a vast departure from those applied to the young male directors who preceded and followed her in her position,” according to her attorneys at Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser LLP, who specialize in employment discrimination law.

Allegations include a “pattern of disparate treatment of female employees” as well as “evidence of blatant discrimination against older job applicants.”

Weiss also alleged that she was forced to lend a hand in Markowitz’s re-election campaign, which violates election law.

Still other complaints in the suit refer to “inappropriate sexual activity in the executive office” between Atkins “and three other staff members.”

The complaint alleges that, after being asked to take charge of the communications office by Markowitz himself, Atkins sabotaged her productivity by micro-managing her tasks, refusing to transfer much-needed personnel to her department and undermining the borough president’s confidence in her abilities.

In the end, Atkins asked Weiss to resign, claiming that the borough president’s office was “changing direction for the next four years and that they wanted someone in her position that can test the political waters,” the lawsuit states.

Her replacement, Markowitz’s speechwriter at the time, was “a younger man in his early thirties with scant political, managerial or media relations experience.”

The complaint claims that Weiss “suffered lost wages, future earnings and other financial benefits, and has endured the pain and suffering of mental and emotional distress.”

Financial compensation will be hammered out at trial, Weiss’ attorney Jack Tuckner explained during an earlier interview with this paper, adding that it took Weiss some time to come forward because she needed to find another job as well as “find the self-confidence she needed to stabilize her life.” Weiss is currently serving as a spokesperson for a non-profit education group.

Yet it will probably be some time before these allegations reach a courtroom, Tuckner warned reporters this week, adding that the case could still be settled out of court.

“In the end it’s not about money, it’s about justice,” Tuckner said. “I think it took a substantial amount of courage to stand up and say ‘No more.’”

Calls to the borough president’s office were referred to the city’s law department.

Diana Goell Voigt, senior counsel with the labor and employment law division, said she was “confident that we will prevail in this case.”

“The Brooklyn borough president has always, and will continue, to employ a diverse group of talented staff in his office,” she said.

The deposition, while long, was “professional and modulated” with no heated exchanges, according to at least one source.