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‘Trivial’ pursuit! Harassment of Gentile staffer was ‘petty’ and ‘trivial’: city lawyers

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A former staffer to Councilman Vincent Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) who is accusing his colleagues of bullying him by leaving mutilated stuffed animals on his desk and publicly mocking his Asperger’s Syndrome doesn’t have a leg to stand on, city lawyers are arguing.

Michael Bistreich is suing the city for $10 million for discrimination, claiming that the alleged abuse he suffered was a violation of the city’s Human Rights Laws, but city lawyers say it did not come close, calling the alleged conduct “petty slights” and “trivial inconvenie­nces” in court papers.

That’s bogus — and an insult to Bistreich, his lawyer said.

“Given the gravity of what happened, that’s not an explanation in this case,” said Brian Heller. “What Michael experienced is way beyond what any reasonable person would think to be petty and trivial. I don’t think they are ever going to be able to meet that standard that what Michael went through is petty or trivial.”

But city lawyers say they are only using “petty” and “trivial” in the legal sense — which carries a different meaning in the courtroom, a city rep said.

“This is a mischaracterization of the City’s answer to the complaint. The language used in the city’s answer is drawn from court cases that establish the legal standard for stating a claim under the city Human Rights Law,” said Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci.

Gentile’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Case law has described “petty slights” and “trivial inconvenie­nces” as the uneven assignment of office tasks or resources — such as one worker receiving a company phone while another does not. But Bistreich’s case seems like straight-up harassment, according to a lawyer with no skin in the game.

“I submit that what occurred, as alleged in the complaint, rises well above [petty and trivial] and is also likely to constitute a severe and pervasive work environment,” said Paul Liggieri of discrimination attorneys Derek Smith Law Group.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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