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Rosenthal’s big win sets troubled RIOC back on its heels

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Former president/CEO Susan Rosenthal’s big win in the discovery part of her lawsuit against RIOC sent the board scrambling into emergency session. That came just five days after a lazy decision to skip another monthly board meeting.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island Daily News

About Susan Rosenthal’s big win…

As we first reported in October, last year, Rosenthal’s lawsuit contesting her firing clobbered both the state agency’s board and Governor Andrew Cuomo. It seized on a major political blunder by Cuomo.

If the state wanted to get rid of her, as an “at will” employee, they could have at any time. No reason necessary because those terms came with the job. Instead, the governor’s office chose trashing her in a racially charged attack. On Juneteenth, a day celebrating the end of slavery, after a ridiculously rushed investigation that turned a minor disgruntled employee’s gripe on a time into something far uglier and more graphic.

The apparent dunderheaded act also opened her firing up to a challenge for wrongful dismissal. Rosenthal has charged RIOC and the state with racism and the board with failing to perform its legal duties.

Violating its own rules, the governor’s team, lead by chief lieutenant Richard Azzopardi, fired her with a brutal press release exclusive to the New York Post. State investigations into similar misconduct are supposedly secret. But as New Yorkers have seen, time and again, there are two sets of rules in Albany.

This one followed the governor’s rules.

Scurrilous charges…

In the spirit, Susan Rosenthal (Center) arrived in costume for an Island House Halloween Party in 2019. She was also helping them celebrate the opening of their new lobby. With her are top hires Kevin Brown, PSD chief, and Gretchen Robinson, chief counsel.

After failing at finding substance in a disgruntled employee’s complaints, an Albany based team, turning on a dime, coughed up a whole new set. These were much worse, and Azzopardi paraded them in the Post.

The new charges arose like magic, accusing Rosenthal of sexual misconduct never before reported. Based on their extensive nature, their sudden appearance clanged like an out of tune bell.

They rested on a series of telephone only interviews and secret tapes that allegedly evidence the charges.

But there was no written report, no notes on the interviews and no copies of the tapes. It was a sort of “trust me” case.

Rosenthal said, “No,” and demanded evidence of everything used against her. The state, under Attorney General Letitia James, and the board argued vociferously in opposition.

Strangely, after invading Rosenthal’s privacy with career wrecking public accusations, the state argued that the employees they say attacked her should have theirs protected.

What she won…

Rosenthal’s big win was extensive. Justice Arthur F. Engoron agreed with her entirely, and here’s what he ordered the state and RIOC to surrender:

  1. Copies of all recordings of Petitioner;
  2. Notes of any interviews with persons complaining about Petitioner;
  3. Drafts of the June 19, 2020 press release, and any communications relating to such press release;
  4. Communications concerning the decision to terminate Petitioner;
  5. Communications, including but not limited to emails, memos and status reports, from Petitioner or other RIOC employees, to government officials, concerning or referring to the steam tunnel on Roosevelt Island, and any documents reflecting the government’s reaction to those communications; and
  6. Communications, including but not limited to emails, memos and status reports, from Petitioner or other RIOC employees, to government officials, concerning or referring to the public health and safety hazards regarding the steam tunnel on Roosevelt Island, including but not limited to the reports from the United States Army Corps of Engineers and Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, Inc., and any documents reflecting the government’s reaction to those communications.

Although the owner of the secret tapes is undisclosed so far, a number of RIOC employees’ participation in the will be exposed, assuming these terms are met.

They are: president/CEO Shelton J. Haynes; chief counsel Gretchen Robinson; project manager Prince Shah; assistant counsel Arthur Eliav; human resources director Tajuna Sharpe; and clerical worker and original complainant Karline Jean.

Others may be involved, but these are the names contained in the lawsuit so far.

He gave the state and RIOC until June 11th for producing the documents, sending a panicked board into emergency session.

What happens next after Rosenthal’s big win?

Last night, RIOC’s board met in emergency session, discussing “Pending Litigation.” It was not open to the public.

Since RIOC’s board has barely enough spine to sit upright in chairs, it’s unlikely any decisions were made by them. Albany, the star chamber getting them into this mess in the first place, is certainly pulling all the strings. And the board will, of course, unanimously vote in favor or whatever Albany gives them.

While they can appeal on various grounds, drawing the case out, a settlement avoiding discovery is more likely.

It’s unknown what Rosenthal might settle for, but the damages to her reputation, the crude invasion of her privacy and loss of pension are substantial. What is known is that the community, through the RIOC tax, will end up footing the bills.

In either case, while Rosenthal may or may not get the evidence she’s requested, we are unlikely to ever see much, if any, of it. Even disclosed, it will probably be sealed from public view.

We will keep you posted on this as well as the other troubles roiling RIOC.

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