Last month, precisely one year after being fired, former RIOC in-house counsel Arthur Eliav filed a discrimination lawsuit against his former employer. Also named as defendants are President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes, Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson and Assistant Vice President Tajuna Sharpe. All are African-American, according to the lawsuit. Eliav is a Caucasian, observant Orthodox Jew.
by David Stone
Eliav previously alerted RIOC’s lackadaisical board without locating a spine. But now, his discrimination lawsuit lands in Federal District Court, and Eliav charges RIOC, Haynes and company with religious as well as racial discrimination.
The defendants, he says, “improperly and routinely passed him over for promotion on the basis of his race, religion, and national origin, and retaliated against him for providing truthful compelled testimony in support of claims of discrimination asserted by a former employee of RIOC.”
And that was compounded when he was “discriminated and retaliated against for raising complaints of prejudice when RIOC, through the Individual Defendants, summarily terminated his employment without rationale, reason, or justification.”
Arthur Eliav at RIOC
Eliav came on board with RIOC in September 2006, after spending two summers interning with them. Within five years, he was promoted to Associate General Counsel.
During his time with the state agency, he aided in at least four General Counsel transitions. He believes he was better qualified than the new hire each time but was passed over. He even served as de facto General Counsel, sometimes for months, while the position was unfilled.
Given his clean track record and positive annual reviews, he saw no good reason why he was overlooked.
But then came a game-changer. Former General Council Don Lewis filed a discrimination lawsuit and won in 2016. Eliav testified on Lewis’s behalf. Lewis settled with the state and was awarded in the neighborhood of half-a-million dollars in Federal Court.
Susan Rosenthal, who has also accused RIOC of anti-white racism in a state lawsuit, held his truthful testimony against him, he says. She was Chief Counsel at the time and later President/CEO.
Eliav swears that she froze him out of promotions and pay raises thereafter. Moreover, he describes improper comments about his religious beliefs and practices by both Rosenthal and the next Chief Counsel, Jaci Flug.
The Core of Eliav’s Discrimination Lawsuit
But while Eliav survived a difficult relationship with Rosenthal, he did not fare as well after Haynes took over RIOC in June 2020. Coincidentally, all three defendants in Eliav’s case played significant roles in Rosenthal’s racially-charged dismissal.
And while all three may have violated New York’s employee guidelines in the process, none were punished to our knowledge. They soon formed what one former employee describes as a Roosevelt Island Wakanda where a circle of female loyalists surrounds and protects Haynes.
To that group, add Haynes’s longtime pal Altheria Jackson. Huge pay raises and promotions followed while RIOC’s performance slipped.
Again, Eliav did not benefit from the general largesse under Haynes. But despite “discriminatory and retaliatory denial of promotion, Eliav continued to conduct himself professionally and complete all duties assigned to him, including many assignments that would normally be the responsibility of the General Counsel.”
A catastrophic autumn in 2021
In an August/September 2021 timeframe, Eliav informed Haynes, based on his efforts for the corporation, that he wanted a promotion. His last was a decade before.
“Haynes stated that he was in favor of the idea of Eliav’s promotion,” according to the federal discrimination lawsuit, “but needed to discuss it with Robinson and Sharpe.”
By the end of September, numerous promotions were announced, but Eliav was not included.
And for the first time, sinking deeper into secrecy, RIOC submitted its proposed budget without disclosing salaries as had been past practice.
The budget also included a mysterious fourth Legal Department position. That position evolved into Deputy General Counsel, #2 in the department, and although Robinson invited Eliav to apply, a published job description disqualified him.
It called for an attorney with extensive courtroom experience. And no one inside could meet that qualification because RIOC outsourced that assignment to a variety of experienced law firms.
Eliav’s discrimination lawsuit suggests the snub was intentional, disqualifying him as a Caucasian, Orthodox Jew again.
Enter the Roosevelt Island Daily
Months later, we discovered in Eliav’s appeal to RIOC’s board that The Daily played a pivotal role.
Reacting to RIOC’s failure to include individual salaries in its budget, we asked for them in a Freedom of Information request.
Eliav asserts that “In retaliation for Mr. Stone’s prior requests and sometimes unflattering articles about RIOC management, Robinson developed an unwritten policy pursuant to which all such requests were routinely subjected to unreasonable delays, regardless of whether the responsive materials were, or should have been, readily available.”
Experiences confirmed this policy.
As Robinson’s alleged delay period ended, an assigned attorney asked Sharpe to provide the information as legally required. But Robinson balked, going so far as proposing what Eliav describes as illegal dodges in evading disclosure.
At this point, Eliav – drawn into the fray – emailed Robinson that RIOC must abide by the law. She finally relented “reluctantly though.”
This riled Haynes who demanded a report on the law as interpreted by Eliav and the assigned attorney.
Taking the Low Road
Simultaneously, the Deputy General Counsel job posting arrived. The minimum requirement of trial experience eliminated both Eliav and Lada Stasko, the other legal counsel then on staff. There is no record of the requirement in past job postings, and trial activity, Eliav’s discrimination lawsuit claims, is not relevant to the duties of RIOC’s house lawyers anyway.
In emails directed at Haynes, Robinson and Sharpe, Eliav asserted that “the process was rigged and unfairly prejudicial and specifically designed to exclude him personally.”
Moreover, he registered his concerns about several previous and current instances of discrimination with Robinson. He did so, he says, in exactly the manner prescribed in RIOC’s whistleblower protection policy.
Less than 48 hours later, Eliav was fired by Robinson via email while home on a sick day. 10 minutes after that, Sharpe notified RIOC’s entire staff of his dismissal.
According to Eliav’s discrimination lawsuit:
“At the time of Eliav’s termination, he was the sixth-ranking employee at RIOC based on salary. Of the five employees that ranked higher than Eliav, four were African-American and were all recently promoted into their positions – none of them had nearly the longevity that Eliav had at RIOC. The remaining higher-ranking employee, a Caucasian male with extensive relevant experience, was fired within months after Eliav’s termination.”