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Bay Ridge Lawyers Association gets updates on the latest in the #MeToo movement

February 5, 2019 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Members of the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association got an update on the latest legal updates involving the #MeToo movement when they hosted attorney Caroline H. Piela for a continuing legal education discussion.

“I had the pleasure of meeting Caroline at a Columbian Lawyers seminar. She’s a wonderful person and a senior associate attorney working for Crumiller P.C. where she started in 2017,” said Joseph Vasile, president of the BRLA.

“She represents victims of gender and pregnancy discrimination in all stages of litigation,” Vasile continued. “She crafts and reviews separation agreements and negotiates severance packages on behalf of employees, represents New York City tenants in all stages of litigation in Housing and Supreme Court.”

From left: Dominic Famulari, Dean Delianites, Samuel L. Hagan, and Charles Boulbol.

Piela, who graduated from Cardozo School of Law, worked as an attorney for the NYC Housing Authority for eight years before joining Susan Crumiller at Crumiller P.C. That firm focuses primarily on gender and pregnancy discrimination issues, plus small business and landlord and tenant litigation.

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“The work that I do for Crumiller P.C. is really a calling,” Piela said. “Almost every single day I tell my clients that I love working for them. I’m their partner in some of the hardest situations that they’ve ever had to face, the most traumatizing situations they’ve ever faced.”

Her roughly one-hour long lecture was titled, “Gender and Pregnancy Discrimination in the #MeToo Era.” It included an explanation of how laws protecting against gender and pregnancy discrimination evolved and how the #MeToo movement has changed playing field.

“If you recall, the movement started with a simple tweet in 2017 made by Alyssa Milano when the Harvey Weinstein story really started to break,” Piela said. “It ignited a worldwide movement that really put the spotlight on sexual misconduct in the workplace. The movement was actually founded in 2006 by Tarana Burke to help girls and women of color who were victims of sexual violence feel less alone.”

Andrea Arrigo (left) and Naomi Skura.

Piela said that while sexual harassment in the workplace has always been common that more women are feeling comfortable reporting such harassment in the current political climate. She said that since Milano first tweeted #MeToo that Crumiller P.C. has taken on many more sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination cases.

After delineating a brief history of the evolution of sexual harassment — from term’s first use in 1975, to Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, the first sexual harassment suit to reach the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986, to the Senate confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas in 1991 — Piela began to get into the nuts and bolts of the current laws.

“The real difference in the first waves of sexual harassment awareness and the #MeToo movement is that women now feel empowered to come forward in the workplace,” Piela said. “Women are not scared of being instantly terminated when they complain about sexual misconduct.”

Explaining the case history behind sexual harassment, which is mostly covered in federal court law, Piela said that she actually prefers to bring cases in either the city or state courts because they are quicker.

“As a practitioner, I like to file in state court because it’s a quicker process,” Piela said. “In federal court there is an administrative prerequisite. You have to first file with the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission] and only then does it get kicked to the federal court system. In the city or state you can either file with the NYC Commission on Human Rights or in the state under the NYS Human Rights Law.”

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