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Maureen O’Connell cites discrimination suit against Dean Bennett

Maureen O'Connell, GOP candidate for Nassau County clerk,

Maureen O'Connell, GOP candidate for Nassau County clerk, brought up a 2008 lawsuit filed against several officials, including her Democratic opponent, Dean Bennett, at a recent meet the candidates night. The suit was settled and sealed in 2011. Photo Credit: James Escher

Even the race for Nassau County clerk has turned rancorous.

At a “meet the candidates” event Tuesday night hosted by the Bellmore-Merrick Civic Association, incumbent Republican Clerk Maureen O’Connell brandished a copy of a federal lawsuit that accused her Democratic opponent, Dean Bennett — along with eight other defendants — of gender and sexual discrimination, retaliation and fostering a hostile work environment in Nassau County’s Office of Minority Affairs.

Bennett’s campaign called O’Connell’s move “desperate political garbage.”

The suit was filed in 2008 by a former female county employee.

The other defendants were then-Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi; then-deputy county executive John Donnelly; Suozzi counsel William Cunningham; the county’s female director of human resources; the female director of equal employment opportunity and three officials in the minority affairs office.

Bennett then was deputy director of minority affairs in the Democratic county administration.

The lawsuit does not attribute any instances of sexual harassment to Bennett, but alleges that he and other defendants fostered a hostile work environment.

The plaintiff cites one specific incident in 2006 when she contended that Bennett “engaged in threatening behavior toward her” after she “exposed” a gender pay disparity in the office, but provided no other details or examples.

Court records show the suit was settled and sealed in 2011. County officials say it was settled for $85,000.

O’Connell complained at the meeting Tuesday and in subsequent public statements that Bennett was sued “for threatening behavior towards a female subordinate which resulted in a settlement where taxpayers foot the bill.”

She said she was “deeply concerned that this type of behavior is being ignored and potentially putting other women at risk. Public officials and those seeking office should be held to a moral standard. It is disturbing that these individuals think they can bully and manipulate people with fear.”

Bennett’s campaign manager, Barbara Dershowitz, said: “The record shows that Dean Bennett has spent his entire professional career fighting for equal pay for equal work and the universal rights of all, including and especially women. The only manipulating in this non-story is by the crumbling Republican machine that has failed Nassau County and that will fail on Election Day.”

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