Seasoned now with a series of revelations, Susan Rosenthal’s appeal in her lawsuit against RIOC turns toward President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes without mentioning him. There’s a reason for that. But if her technical argument prevails, he may be called out in court.
by David Stone
On a pleasant summer day, Juneteenth in 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo threw a punch at Roosevelt Island. His firing of RIOC’s CEO and President Susan Rosenthal was accompanied by a reputation-crushing – and exclusive – statement in the New York Post.
While that alone violated state policies right and left, it eventually unearthed actions inside RIOC that may have been in collusion with Cuomo. Chief among them was the recording of a telephone conversation in which the state alleges she made racist comments. That recording, attributed to Haynes by multiple people, has gone missing, although it’s a key element in the firing of Rosenthal. It may never have existed at all.
Rosenthal’s attorney, Steven Storch argues that dismissing her claims hangs on a series of errors in interpreting existing legal precedents. Those arguments surpass our knowledge or expertise; so, The Daily will not try sorting them out.
But we will attach a copy at the end of this article.
However, the pivot it turns on is interesting.
In 2021, Rosenthal’s lawsuit, filed in October 2020, reached a critical point, advancing to the level of discovery. Discovery may be the single most important stage in a civil lawsuit.
For example, it was in discovery that Dominion Voting Systems uncovered an avalanche of evidence against Fox News that lead to a huge win for them.
In Rosenthal against RIOC, its board of directors and the state, it’s different because the defendants failed to comply with a judge’s orders to turn over evidence.
Rosenthal’s appeal zeroes in on that and how it led to a string of errors.
In May 2021, the court ordered RIOC as well as its Albany handlers to turn over evidence used in firing Rosenthal, but they never did so.
In rushing to judgment, the state as well as RIOC’s board made several mistakes. The biggest was that they didn’t simply let her go because they had that right. Rosenthal was an “at will” employee, and no reason was required.
But apparently in pursuit of a racist goal, they fired her for a reason. Apart from unnecessary process errors, that opened the gates for her lawsuit. That is, you can fire an at will employee of the state for any reason or for no reason… but not for an illegal reason.
That illegal reason, Rosenthal claims, was racism with a hefty dose of whistleblower retaliation. Her appeal suggests it was part of a plan for removing Caucasians from RIOC’s workforce, a mistake for which she accepts some blame for herself.
If she’s right, that plan continued or even accelerated after her departure and is an indelible black mark on this community.
Where Shelton J. Haynes Comes In
Even in Rosenthal’s appeal, Haynes’s name never comes up. That’s because, in their defense, RIOC does not name the person who made the notorious recording that became a central element in her dismissal.
Multiple people single out Haynes as the culprit. They allege that he recorded it on his personal cellphone, then played it back for African American employees, turning them against Rosenthal. No one says that he colluded with the Governor’s operatives or aimed at having her fired, though.
But returning to reality, there is no proof that Haynes or anyone else made such a recording. In response to our FOIL request, RIOC clearly stated that they don’t have it if it exists at all.
All that should have been resolved in discovery nearly two years ago.
But the fact is that RIOC, its board of directors and the state defied the judge’s orders and never delivered anything in discovery. Storch asked that they be sanctioned, but they got away with it so far.
We are not in any position to conclude whether Rosenthal committed the misconduct claimed by RIOC and Cuomo. But the basic, gross unfairness to Rosenthal burns harsh and bright.
Rosenthal has never had a chance to challenge the charges or to clear her name. That’s un-American as well as abundantly cruel, and anyone involved, especially RIOC’s board of directors, should be ashamed of their involvement.
Moreover, even as it answered her lawsuit, neither the state nor RIOC has produced a single, tangible shred of evidence against her. It’s all hearsay piled on top of hearsay.
There is no recording nor a single affidavit or other sworn testimony by anyone. As a result, Rosenthal was deprived of her job, her pension and her reputation by a bag of virtually nothing.
It’s also unfair to Shelton Haynes, leaving his reputation assaulted by rumors and hearsay, making it even more clear that it’s time to clear the air in court.
Although it’s time for RIOC managers and its board of directors to stand tall, none of them will.
We know this, and that’s why Rosenthal’s appeal is important. The American way requires accusers coming forward and giving the accused a shot at defending themselves.
That shouldn’t be too tall an order for Roosevelt Island and the State of New York. There’s more than enough damage done already.