A former chief operating officer at Cedar Realty Trust Inc., a Port Washington-based real estate investment trust, has filed a lawsuit against the company’s chief executive alleging she was subjected to pay discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation for complaining about her treatment.
Nancy Mozzachio filed the suit in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Thursday, saying she worked as Cedar’s COO from 2014 until her termination on Feb. 12, 2016, “in retaliation” for her complaints. She is seeking compensation for lost earnings, and compensatory damages.
The suit names Bruce Schanzer, the company’s CEO, as the defendant. The lawsuit said Mozzachio received “disparate treatment based on her sex in terms of salary and bonus” and that she was “subject to hostile work environment sexual harassment.”
“At Cedar Realty Trust, we are proud of our strong and empowering culture and diverse workforce,” Cedar Realty said in an emailed statement to Newsday. “We take allegations of this nature very seriously and do not tolerate discrimination or harassment of any kind. As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation. That said, we are confident that the case is entirely without merit and we will vigorously defend ourselves against this baseless litigation.”
Cedar Realty owned 61 properties as of Sept. 30 according to a securities filing. Most of them are grocery-store-anchored shopping centers in the Northeast. It had 69 full time employees as of Dec. 31, according to another filing. The company’s shares rose 2 cents to $5.87 on Tuesday, and are down 6 percent in the past 12 months.
Michael R. DiChiara of Krakower DiChiara LLC of Park Ridge, New Jersey, who represents Mozzachio in the lawsuit, did not respond to requests for comment.
Mozzachio started working at Cedar in 2003 as the company’s director of leasing, according to the lawsuit. Mozzachio, a Brooklyn resident, received a lower salary than the company’s chief financial officer at the time of her promotion to COO, although chief operating officers are normally “the second highest paid executive for a real estate investment trust company like Cedar,” the lawsuit said.
Mozzachio earned total compensation of $373,000 in 2015, when the chief financial officer earned $789,869, according to the company’s proxy statement.
The complaint said that Schanzer created “a work atmosphere [where] sexual harassment was condoned.”
“Over the course of several years, up to [and] including the date of her termination, Plaintiff was leered at and subject to inappropriate comments by” Schanzer, the court documents said. The suit also said Schanzer “attempted to kiss” Mozzachio while in a hotel elevator on a business trip.
Four women at Cedar reported sexually harassing behavior by the chief executive during a 2015 investigation, the lawsuit said. Claims against Schanzer were settled by payments “through Cedar’s payroll system so that Cedar would not have to inform investors,” the suit said.