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Sexual Harassment History No Obstacle to Government Job for Some City Workers

November 16, 2021 By Yoav Gonen, THE CITY
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Logo for THE CITYThis article was originally published on by THE CITY.

Records obtained by THE CITY show employees remain on the payroll after they have been found responsible for misconduct on duty, including when termination was recommended.

The allegations against then-Parks Department worker Charles Meierdiercks were troubling.

In an enclosed shed of a Brooklyn park he told a female subordinate that he was feeling turned on, began to pleasure himself and asked if she wanted to join in, according to the woman.

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Within months, Parks investigators substantiated allegations of sexual harassment against Meierdiercks, city documents show.

The subordinate, who told THE CITY she felt awkward at work after the alleged March 2015 incident because her colleagues seemed aware of it, quit her relatively new post that June — even as she was living in a homeless shelter with her son.

Two months later, before officials could terminate Meierdiercks, he resigned, records provided by the Department of Parks and Recreation indicate.

But online payroll records show that Meierdiercks was hired in July of the following year by the city Department of Sanitation, where he’s been earning a taxpayer-paid salary ever since.

Sanitation officials said Meierdiercks was hired off a civil service list and that a background check turned up no red flags, but noted he also failed to self-report any past disciplinary issues as required.

A Troubling Pattern

THE CITY learned of the allegations against Meierdiercks and other city employees accused of sexual misconduct via a dozen Freedom of Information Act requests filed with New York City government agencies in May 2019, seeking records dating back to 2014, the start of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s two terms.

The records show at least a half dozen employees were terminated from one agency, only to be hired by another — or simply stayed put even after their agency tried to oust them.

One former Human Resources Administration employee even ran for elected office on Staten Island earlier this year with the assistance of $124,000 in taxpayer funds, just months after retiring amid a disciplinary charge for sexual harassment.

Other city workers received significant raises or promotions in the middle of or soon after probes by agency equal employment opportunity investigators that found the workers had committed sexual harassment.

In a case that yielded a demotion for a lieutenant of emergency medical technicians — for groping and sexually harassing a reality TV star turned EMT — the disciplined employee was able to reverse his pay cut within a year simply by racking up overtime, records show.

Years to Get Records

The disciplinary records obtained by THE CITY for the first time shed light on how sexual misconduct allegations get investigated and acted upon across city agencies.

THE CITY sought records from the Mayor’s Office and City Council; Administration for Children’s Services; Department of Citywide Administrative Services and Human Resources Administration; the departments of Correction, Education, Health, Parks, Design and Construction, and Environmental Protection; and the NYPD and FDNY.

It took two and a half years before all the agencies complied with the requests. Multiple agencies, including NYPD, DOC and City Council, failed to provide names of personnel with substantiated cases or information on disciplinary outcomes.

The documents obtained by THE CITY highlight how sexual misconduct can occur anywhere.

In 2018, the City Council passed a package of laws that de Blasio signed and said would boost transparency and accountability when it comes to harassment in city government.

But the 2018 legislation didn’t mandate release of information about outcomes of disciplinary actions against city employees, and that information had remained almost entirely out of public view, until now.

‘Numerous Reforms’

The records show multiple instances of agency-hopping in the face of termination — including a worker at the Department of Design and Construction who was booted for a “pattern of inappropriate commentary and behavior” in late 2017, and within months was hired by the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Neither agency commented on that case.

Another Department of Parks and Recreation staffer who was employed seasonally by the agency was put on the agency’s “do not hire list” in 2016 for confirmed sexual harassment, according to department documents.

After not working the following two summers, the recreation specialist resumed his seasonal employment with the Parks Department in 2018 and 2019, online payroll records show.

Parks officials said the list is actually a “verify to hire” list, meaning hiring managers have the discretion to employ someone on the list.

They said it contains more than 11,000 names, mostly of seasonal workers with time and leave issues, but also 42 staffers with cases of alleged sexual harassment.

Asked about the rehiring of terminated workers, City Hall officials said they introduced new guidelines only last year, in January, that for the first time required agencies to check on anti-harassment or discrimination law violations by potential hires who were transferring between city agencies.

Angelina Pivarnick attends WEtv’s premiere fashion event celebrating the return of ‘Bridezillas’ on March 13, 2019.
Photo courtesy of THE CITY

‘Do Not Rehire’

The records obtained by THE CITY show that confirmed cases of sexual harassment can go essentially unpunished, either through relatively light discipline or when a municipal worker simply resigns.

Former HRA staff analyst Brandon Stradford has run for elected office twice since the agency substantiated a sexual harassment allegation against him in May 2019 — and in one race got considerable assistance from matching taxpayer dollars.

Stradford competed in the Democratic primary against State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/Brooklyn) in June 2020, six months after his last day of work at HRA.

He followed that losing race with a bid to become Staten Island borough president this year.

The confirmed allegation of sexual harassment against him at HRA hasn’t been previously reported, and didn’t come up during either bid for elected office.

While the nature of that harassment couldn’t be gleaned from documents provided by HRA, officials said he was facing a relatively light punishment of a one-day suspension.

Stradford didn’t respond to a voicemail and text message seeking comment.

‘Jersey Shore’ Star Harassed  

In one case that garnered considerable media attention, FDNY Emergency Medical Technician Jonathan Schechter was named in a sexual harassment lawsuit by former “Jersey Shore” reality star Angelina Pivarnick in 2019 that the city settled for $350,000 last year.

The federal filing included a claim by Pivarnick that Schechter, one of her EMT supervisors, grabbed and squeezed her buttocks in a parking lot outside the Staten Island EMS station, “putting his hand so low that he also made contact with her vaginal area.”

The complaint says that later that same day, in May 2018, Schechter texted her: “That a—! If you only knew the thoughts in my mind.”

Schechter’s punishment, which hasn’t been previously reported, was a demotion from lieutenant to paramedic.

But records show his ability to earn overtime went unimpeded, to the point that after his demotion dropped his take-home pay by $13,000, Schechter boosted it the following year by $30,000.

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