Woman Fired After Aiding Sexual Harassment Probe Sues State
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Officials covered up sexual harassment allegations against the former director of New York state's DNA database and forensic laboratories, a woman fired from her longtime job with a state agency alleges in a lawsuit.
Gina Bianchi's federal lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Albany names Department of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Michael Green and two other agency leaders as defendants.
Bianchi claims she was fired as a special counsel after 24 years with DCJS because she cooperated with the state inspector general's investigation into harassment allegations against Brian Gestring, then head of forensics for DCJS.
DCJS officials say Gestring was fired in March for an inappropriate remark during a meeting held outside DCJS offices and not for the ongoing investigation into the allegations.
A DCJS spokeswoman said the agency won't comment on litigation.
No phone number or contact information could be found for Gestring, who came to Albany in 2012 after working in the New York Police Department forensics lab.
The Albany Times Union first reported on the lawsuit. The newspaper reported in March that a state inspector general's investigation found Gestring had threatened female employees with physical violence and sexually harassed others. DCJS officials said they couldn't substantiate the allegations.
Four days after that newspaper report, the agency announced Gestring had been fired after serving for more than five years as the head of the agency's office that oversees the state's DNA database and public forensic laboratories.
Bianchi was fired Dec. 5 after the inspector general's office provided her testimony about Gestring's alleged behavior to Green, the DCJS commissioner. Civil service protections allowed the then-special counsel to remain employed at DCJS in a lower position as a staff attorney making $44,000 less per year.
Her lawsuit says the salary reduction has diminished her retirement benefits and losing her special counsel position has caused her physical and emotional distress as well as tarnishing her reputation.
"She was a woman who was in the really top leadership levels of Criminal Justice Services, and now she's sitting doing work she did when she entered state service," said her attorney, John Bailey. "It's been a huge and traumatic jolt to her emotions."
The lawsuit requests a jury trial to determine unspecified monetary damages due to Bianchi, Baily said.
The office of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that state officials are looking into whether Bianchi was unfairly demoted, while the inspector general's findings have been referred to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics for an independent review.