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State harassment hearing against Huntington official is postponed

Town of Huntington Superintendent of Highways Peter S.

Town of Huntington Superintendent of Highways Peter S. Gunther in the operation center at the Highway Office in Huntington on Feb. 20, 2015. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

A New York State Division of Human Rights public hearing on a sexual harassment complaint filed against Huntington Highway Superintendent Peter Gunther has been postponed until August.

The hearing was set to begin Monday and testimony heard through Tuesday before New York State Division of Human Rights Administrative Law Judge Robert M. Vespoli in Hauppauge.

The hearings will now be Aug. 2 and 3.

In January, the division ruled that the complaint filed against Gunther and the town by Laurie Beth Austin, a senior account clerk typist in Huntington’s Highway Department, could go to a judge.

Christopher Cassar, Austin’s attorney, said he was advised by the court that because of “administrative reasons” the hearing had to be postponed.

“It’s unfortunate that the hearings had to be rescheduled; my client was looking forward to having a resolution of this matter as soon as possible,” Cassar said.

In January, Joyce Yearwood-Drury, director of the division’s Office of Sexual Harassment Issues, announced that after an investigation, they found “evidence that Mr. Gunther was pursuing a personal relationship with” Austin, a senior account clerk typist in the highway department.

Austin filed the complaint July 27.

Austin has worked for the town’s highway department since 1990 and remains employed there. Shortly after Gunther took office, in January 2014, Austin applied for and became his confidential secretary, according to the investigation report. The position came with a $12,000-a-year stipend on top of her regular salary.

Austin provided the state with recorded conversations she said she had with Gunther, expressing how “uncomfortable” she was with his behavior, and Valentine’s Day cards signed “Love, Pete.” She also said that he asked her to meet him on nights and weekends, according to the division report.

Gunther denied the allegations during the agency’s investigation.

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