Employment Attorney Weighs In On Leigh Castergine Lawsuit

Leigh Castergine’s lawsuit against Mets COO Jeff Wilpon is unlikely to be settled quickly. We may be looking at the beginning of a long, financially draining case.

There are at least two interesting stories written today, one by Jeff Passan and another by Craig Calcaterra. Calcaterra’s take is particularly interesting because he is a former attorney who specialized in employment cases (hat tip to MetsToday reader “Matt T“).

After reading the Calcaterra piece, I reached out to a currently practicing attorney specializing in employment law and discrimination cases — Robert Tandy, Esq., who handles all aspects of employment law litigation, from the initial stages of investigation and discovery through trial. He has extensive experience in a wide variety of employment law issues, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, whistleblower rights, retaliation, and wage & hour issues. Robert represents employers and employees providing him with significant insight to the decision making processes of both groups. He regularly provides training for supervisors and managers, as well as non-supervisory employees in all areas of employment law.

All that said, I think he’s qualified to answer a few questions related to this story. Here is the quick Q&A:

JJ: Do you agree with Calcaterra’s opinion that “…this suit looks like it could be a big, big problem for Jeff Wilpon and the Mets.”? Why or why not?

RT: Any lawsuit has the potential to be a “big, big problem” for a defendant. This lawsuit may create, however, a larger public relations problem than your typical employment discrimination lawsuit based simply on who are named as Defendants.

JJ: In your experience with this type of lawsuit, do deposed witnesses tend to tell the truth when put on the stand, as Calcaterra asserts?

RT: Credibility of witnesses is crucial in “he said she said” type lawsuits, which, to a large part, this case appears to resemble. Beyond credibility of witnesses, however, one needs to examine the factual circumstances surrounding her claims, i.e., it may prove difficult for Mets’ management to assert that her individual performance was the legitimate non-discriminatory justification for her termination given she had, if proven true, received substantial increases in her compensation structure during her tenure of employment with the Mets as alleged in her Complaint.

JJ: Do you see any major holes or issues in the filed complaint that could make it difficult for Castergine to prove her case?

RT: At this stage, only a complaint has been filed. Thus, it is only a small glimpse what Plaintiff asserts she will be able to prove at trial. It is way too early to tell whether there is any factual merit to her claims and whether Defendants have a legitimate non-discriminatory basis for taking the adverse employment action against her in this matter. I will say, however, in my experience, if an employer is going to proffer that an employee’s performance was the legitimate cause of the termination, they best have documentation establishing negative performance. Juries do not like to simply hear allegations of poor performance after the fact. Juries tend to want to see documents establishing poor performance. Documentation becomes more important when you have allegations of substantial salary increases and bonuses in the months leading up to termination.

JJ: Do you expect this to be a long, drawn-out affair, or something that can be quickly handled with a settlement fee?

RT: In general, litigation takes 1 1/2 to 2 years to complete. At any point in time, however, the parties are free to enter into a settlement agreement to resolve the matter. Typically, each party conducts a cost benefit analysis to determine if it is in the party’s best interest to settle the matter. I expect the back pages to be active for a long time in this matter given the nature of the allegations already asserted in the Complaint.

JJ: According to the complaint, Castergine went to the Mets’ HR department several times to report the way she was mistreated, but HR officers allegedly did nothing other than suggest that she quit. Is that a common response for a HR department of a company the size of the Mets? Was there a legal process that should have been executed by the Mets HR department upon hearing Castergine’s complaints?

RT: Pursuant to the law, all employers are faced with an affirmative obligation to act in the face complaint of discrimination by an employee. It is not unusual for an HR Department to conduct an “investigation” into the allegations and advise the employee of its findings. Unfortunately, however, it has been my experience that HR Departments typically provide the allegations have been determined to be “Unsubstantiated” — leaving an employee with limited recourse and forced to seek legal counsel. This is especially true when allegations of discrimination are made against high level executives in a company.

JJ: Do you have any advice for women who may be experiencing similar disrespect / discrimination in their workplace? Is going to HR a
necessary first step, or is it better to go directly to a lawyer? In other words, what would be the proper legal process?

RT: If you are experiencing discrimination, harassment or retaliation in the workplace, you should seek the assistance of experienced legal counsel.

If/as this story drags on, I may check in with Rob for more insight. In the meantime, feel free to post any questions or reactions in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. DanB September 11, 2014 at 12:29 pm
    This case fascinates me for two reasons. One is that a large portion of her case will be based on testimony from other Met executives as she claims they have witnessed Jeff Wilpon acting and speaking inappropiately. This is sets up a situation where Met executives might have to testify against Wilpon — a test of loyality to Jeff Wilpon. I have no insight to the Met’s inner workings, but based on comments I have read from the baseball community about Jeff Wilpon, I am going to bet there is going be more then one Met executive that will testify against Wilpon if her claims are true. The other aspect that I look forward to (since I have said I would trade David Wright and Matt Harvey if it meant losing Jeff Wilpon) is her response to the claim that she was terminated because of poor ticket sales this year. Not only is it a weak claim since she was given a big raise two months before she announced she was pregnant but also because she was on maternity leave for most of this summer and was terminated only one month from the end of her return. In additional, and perhaps more fun, this puts her in a position of where she can provide testimony on why ticket sales were low because of how poorly run the Mets are and that she was trying to make the best of a bad situation. Even if Jeff Wilpon is innocent (I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it, though) this case could lead to some very embarrissing testimony for the Mets. Will it be enough to force the Wilpons out? Who knows. If the Wilpons own the Mets because of the prestige it brings them as has been stated, maybe it will change their mind. Maybe MLB will frown on a misogynist owning a team. Maybe more fans will avoid Citi Field based on this behavior. But I think it will be a fun ride for those desperate for the Wilpons to sell nonetheless.
  2. argonbunnies September 12, 2014 at 5:10 am
    I’d like to dream that Castergine gives testimony that it’s impossible to sell tickets for a bad team, supports it with mounds of data, and that winds up in the papers, giving reporters ammo for the next time Sandy trots out the “spending will increase once attendances increases” nonsense.

    In reality, though, I highly doubt that confluence of factors — that the case doesn’t settle, that details of “why the Mets don’t sell tickets” are deemed germane, that the media bribes their way into the courtroom, etc.

    Selig would always assume the best and make excuses for his loyal Wilpons. Manfred, well, we’ll see. Maybe not! Maybe he’ll give Jeffy a little sit-down — “You can’t be both a scumbag AND a cheapskate. Pick one.”

    • david September 15, 2014 at 12:14 am
      Ticket sales will definitely be relevant in the case and details will be have to be disclosed. Knowing the Wilpons they will try like hell to keep those details confidential but that often does not keep the informaiton out of the papers.

      There is an old saying about losing inherited money – shirt sleeves to shir tsleeves in 3 gnerations. I can’t wait that long for the Wilpons to sell, however.

  3. chris September 12, 2014 at 11:23 am
    The Mets sure are hard to be a fan of aren’t they?

    I already quit the Cowboys due to the unlikeable / unsupportable ownership. Maybe the Mets are next. Likely not since I love baseball and am infinitely more attached to the Mets than any football team, but I will definitely boycott anything that directly makes money for them. No new hat, shirt, tickets, no MLB At Bat, no anything.

    On one hand I am not surprised, after Madoff there could never be a doubt about the kind of people running the team, but on the other hand its the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Right or wrong the NBA is cracking down on ownership and executives expressing their ignorance in damaging ways, it is time for MLB to follow suit.

  4. Dan B September 12, 2014 at 12:49 pm
    The more I read the worse it gets. We can expect emails and witnesses and a history of misogymy. I even read (but not fully documented) that this is not the first woman forced out because of a birth out of wedlock. Haven’t read about any males punished for the same. Not surprisingly the national media is full of venom for Wilpon (read the review on Yahoo Sports) . Every commentary begins by referring to Jeff Wilpon as one of the worst executives in baseball — as if it is an assumed fact. Another twist one blotter pointed out is that this could hurt the Wilpons when they refinance their $600 million loan for SNY next year. That may cost them more then the lawsuit.
  5. Bob September 13, 2014 at 12:58 am
    Bob Klapisch and John Harper in their book documented similar treatment of David Cone from Fred Wilpon in 1992 before Cone was allowed to walk at the end of the year. He had a long term girlfriend and was publicly shamed by Wilpon for not getting engaged and married in front of a bunch of little kids for whom he was signing memorabilia.

    Any other examples?

    • Dan B September 13, 2014 at 4:33 pm
      In a weird way I would respect the Wilpons more if they held men and women to the same moral standard. It doesn’t make firing someone for getting pregnant less illegal but I respect moral beliefs even if I don’t agree with them. However how they wrestled the Mets away from Doubleday and their involvement in Madoff and a few other dealings makes me question how deep their moral stands go.
      • DaveSchneck September 14, 2014 at 9:33 pm
        Dan,
        I don’t know the Wilpons personally, but the list just keeps growing. At some point, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, yada yada yada. Sure, they may be champions of the institution of marriage, but to my recollection is that they did not terminate Steve Phillips for not abiding by the institution, within the workplace no less. it seems to me the have selective application of moral standards.