Two serious floods at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's district office on Whitehall Street in Lower Manhattan has destroyed files and shut down operations, hindering some ongoing labor cases and complicating others, according to lawyers who handle employment matters.
The office was flooded in July when a water pipe burst, destroying an unknown number of mainly closed files, and flooded again by Hurricane Sandy, according to Elizabeth Grossman, regional attorney for the EEOC in Manhattan. The office has been closed since late October, with operations being run from alternate locations and phone service sketchy.
Grossman acknowledged that there have been some "serious issues" that the agency has addressed on a case-by-case basis. However, she said there is very little in the files that cannot be recreated.
"If the file is open, we work with the employee and employer, as we did after 9/11, to recreate it so we can continue our investigation," Grossman said. "Occasionally, but rarely, there is evidence that comes from a third party and that generally can be recreated as well. There is almost never evidence in an open file that cannot be recreated."
Grossman said the problems have not been widespread.
Attorneys say some of the lost files are difficult to replace and could hinder claimants attempting to proceed with employment discrimination actions, while the disruption in service has made it more difficult to secure the "right to sue" letter that must be obtained from the EEOC before plaintiffs can initiate litigation.
"It has been a problem," said Jeffrey Brown of Leeds Brown in Manhattan. "But we are sympathetic because we know it was [an inadvertent flooding and storm] that caused the damage. We applaud the efforts of the EEOC and will do everything we can to make sure there is a seamless transition when they come back."
Alexander Coleman of Borrelli & Associates in Long island and Manhattan said his firm has about 15 cases that have been impacted by the floods.
One such case involves former Borelli client Nicole Corrado, an attorney for the Appellate Division, First Department, disciplinary committee who alleges she was sexually harassed by two now-retired officials and retaliated against by a third official for complaining (NYLJ, May 16).
Corrado said in an interview that around the same time that her original file at EEOC was lost in the July flood she learned that the Borrelli firm had destroyed its paper copy of that file. Her current attorney, Ambrose Wotorson of Brooklyn, said in a recent letter to Eastern District Magistrate Judge Marilyn Go (See Profile) that the concurrent loss of the file by the EEOC and destruction of the file by Borrelli "is both suspect and disturbingly curious."