ALBANIA – A lawyer who was dismissed from her position in the State Department of Criminal Justice three years ago for testifying in a sexual harassment investigation recently filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court accusing the agency of human rights abuses.
Gina L. Bianchi’s lawsuit is an addition to a federal civil lawsuit she filed in 2018 in the U.S. District Court in Albany. She also referred to unlawful retaliation for participating in a sexual harassment investigation involving a former forensic director.
In the federal case, Bianchi’s attorneys filed a letter in court last week stating that an attorney for John Czajka, a former General Counsel of DCJS and a defendant in the lawsuit, appeared to have accidentally disclosed during a conference call on the case, that records are withheld by Bianchi’s legal team.
John W. Bailey, one of Bianchi’s attorneys, said the disclosure came after the defendants’ attorneys were unaware the call was active and a stenographer was still taking notes.
“It was clear that without the fact that the defense attorney did not know we had not withdrawn from the conference, we would not have known that documents were withheld,” Bailey wrote.
Tina E. Sciocchetti, Czajka’s attorney, told Bailey during the conference call that the records had been provided to her by her client, not DCJS, and that she was reviewing with the agency to see if they claimed the materials were privileged and are not subject to discovery. Records of this type are usually listed in an “Authorization Log”, but were not in this case.
Bailey argued that Czajka may have made the records available to his attorney after he left the employment relationship with DCJS, but they are still agency records that could be the subject of a pretrial discovery.
“What I have withheld are documents that are subject to the assertion of DCJS privileges and I ask you to clarify whether or not you are asserting privileges through them,” Sciocchetti Bailey said at the November 20th conference. “It seems consistent with your conduct and request here. I assume that the agency and the governor’s office intend to enforce privileges, and that is the order they gave me.”
Sciocchetti said that the records in question were made available by Czajka to his lawyer while he was still employed at DCJS and that it had made it clear to Bianchi’s lawyers that any record not yet given to the plaintiff’s lawyers could is subject to lawyers and clients. Sciocchetti also claimed on the conference call that no documents were hidden or improperly withheld.
Bianchi’s attorneys previously told a federal judge they were “suspicious” that the decision to fire her may have been made or approved by someone in the governor’s office.
When she was fired from her position at DCJS on December 5, 2017, Bianchi was told that this was due to her testimony in the sexual harassment investigation involving other female employees. Bianchi’s federal lawsuit accuses Acting Commissioner Michael C. Green of covering up allegations against a former forensic director, Brian J. Gestring.
Green has failed to acknowledge whether he was the only one who made the decision to fire Bianchi after interrogating her about her testimony in an Inspector General’s investigation. He was recently due to be dismissed, but prosecutors have asked that the trial be postponed due to the new lawsuit in the state Supreme Court.
The state recently agreed to settle another federal lawsuit filed by a DCJS executive, Kimberly Schiavone, accusing officials of punishing her and ignoring complaints of sexual harassment against Gestring – even after an inspector general’s investigation sustained the harassment allegations would have. The terms of this settlement have not been published.
The settlement negotiations in Bianchi’s case fell apart in May.
Upon her resignation, Bianchi, who held a senior position, was able to relegate to a junior position at DCJS due to public service regulations, but suffered a $ 44,000 per year wage cut and lost her senior status. She worked at DCJS for more than 27 years – under five governors and seven commissioners. Her lawyers said her employment record was immaculate until Green resigned her.
“This horrific, life-changing incident shattered my career and has left me with a stigma that I am not sure will ever fix,” wrote Bianchi in a testimony presented to a legislative body in February 2019, the sexual Workplace harassment – including misconduct – investigated occurs in government government offices.
After that hearing, no legislature took action to investigate the Bianchi case.
Gestring was fired from his job in March 2018 because the agency alleged it was a complaint of workplace misconduct that had occurred more than a year earlier. His abrupt resignation came after a number of Times Union reports highlighting the alleged cover-up of the workplace misconduct investigation.
In a previous statement, DCJS said its decision three years ago to terminate Bianchi and transfer Schiavone was “appropriate measures … to maintain the decent work environment at DCJS”.