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.

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