A Garden City, N.Y., tax certiorari firm must pay more than $716,500 in damages to a former associate and a paralegal who claim they lost their jobs after they became pregnant, a federal jury has decided.
Sitting in Central Islip, the panel of four women and three men Wednesday awarded only $16,499 in damages to Jacquelyn Todaro, a former associate at Siegel, Fenchel & Peddy, who was the lead plaintiff in the case.
However, the jurors decided that Maria H. Moscarelli, a former legal assistant who had worked at the firm for 16 years, should receive $203,838 for lost pay and $500,000 in punitive damages. The two plaintiffs had sought $15 million.
According to defense attorney Kevin M. Fox, punitive damages under federal law are capped at $50,000, meaning the firm would at most have to pay approximately $266,000, if the verdict is upheld. A motion to set the verdict aside will be filed, said Fox, who called the jury’s verdict “inconsistent.”
The Eastern District of New York jury in Todaro v. Siegel Fenchel & Peddy, CV-04-2939, accepted Moscarelli’s Title VII and state Human Rights Law claims. However, it found against Todaro on her Title VII claim that she was discriminated against because she was a female employee who became pregnant. Instead, the panel awarded her $16,499 in damages under the federal Equal Pay Act for her claim that her salary was cut before she left the firm on maternity leave in 2003.
“It’s a contradiction — if you find that there is no discrimination, implicitly that means there was a legitimate and nondiscriminatory reason for the reduction in pay,” Fox said in an interview.
However, the Equal Pay Act only requires that a plaintiff show that a member of the opposite sex in a comparable capacity is paid more.
“After her pay was reduced there was about a $20,000 difference [between Todaro] and the only male associate at the firm,” Fox said.
A 1996 graduate of Hofstra Law School, Todaro was making $102,500 annually before the partnership informed her she was taking a pay cut in January 2003 to $76,875 due to what the firm claimed was her inability to perform her work.