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Long IslandNassau

Female worker in Nassau veterans office files complaint with state over unwanted advances

Leann Murphy-Baker on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014 in

Leann Murphy-Baker on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014 in Garden City. Leann, who was a contract worker with the Nassau County Veterans Service Agency is filing a complaint with the State Division of Human Rights after she was ousted from her job for ending a consensual relationship with the agency's deputy director. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

The only female advocate in the Nassau County Veterans Service Agency said she was ostracized and repeatedly harassed by various employees there after she spurned the sexual advances of the agency's deputy director, according to a complaint filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights.

Leann Murphy-Baker, a $24,400-per-year contract worker responsible for helping veterans file benefits claims, is still employed by the agency but no longer works in the East Meadow headquarters with deputy director Scott Castillo, she said.

In the complaint, filed in August, Baker wrote that Castillo used his position to influence others in the office to cause her "emotional distress" and financial harm after she turned down his advances.

Baker, who was hired as a contract employee in December 2012, said she began a four-year affair with Castillo two years earlier when the two met at a veterans convention in Atlantic City.

She said she ended the affair in the first half of 2013.

"I want an apology and I want what it's cost me," Baker said, adding that the poisoned atmosphere has hampered her ability to assist clients. "I want to be allowed to help my veterans."

Castillo denied having an affair with Baker or retaliating in any way.

The deputy director, who for a while signed Baker's pay invoices, said the decision to require her to work off site was made by former agency director Joe Pascarella. Pascarella died in December 2013.

"It is all [untrue], but it is going through the process," Castillo said of the complaint. "This is what happens when you try to help a friend. It's a heartache for me. This is a mess."

Castillo is married, has two children and is a former Army Ranger who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was hired by the Veterans Service Agency in 2009.

Nassau Executive Ed Mangano's spokesman Brian Nevin, who declined further comment, released a statement attributed to county investigations Commissioner Carnell Foskey saying "these are serious and disturbing allegations that are being investigated by my office."

Baker left at a time when the Nassau agency was already reeling from a sharp decrease in its veteran advocate staff -- from seven a decade ago to just three currently.

Her ouster also took place amid concern that the growing number of women in the military and increasing reports of military sexual assault are bringing more women to veterans agencies in search of help.

About one in seven of Baker's clients is female, she said, with the vast majority seeking help for sexual trauma experienced while on active duty.

Baker told Newsday that after she ended the affair she faced long delays in getting paid and other harassment, including being compelled to have some official meetings with veteran clients in a hallway outside the agency.

She produced a copy of an email apparently sent by Pascarella informing her that official mail sent to her at the agency's headquarters "will be returned to sender."

Baker said that led to lost documents and monthslong delays for some veterans claiming disability benefits from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs.

She said a claim filed by one man, a Vietnam veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, was rejected when needed paperwork was not filed in time.

The complaint alleges discrimination by both Castillo and Pascarella.

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