A screenshot of Theresa Kohutka, center, from a Hempstead Town news conference on...

A screenshot of Theresa Kohutka, center, from a Hempstead Town news conference on July 17, 2019, on the town's YouTube channel.  Credit: Town of Hempstead via YouTube

Hempstead Town has concluded its probe into complaints filed by two staffers who alleged that a now former employee's social media post violated the town's sexual harassment policy as a state investigation into the same incident proceeds, a town official confirmed.

Town spokesman Brian Devine in an email Wednesday said the town's internal investigation into the employees' complaints has been closed. 

The town, in its March 29 letter to the state, said it closed the investigation, citing that the incident occurred on social media, not on town time, and that the former employee was not reachable and then retired, documents shared with Newsday show.

Billy Frank Kouvatsos, a chief public safety officer, and Patricia Acevedo, a clerk in the parks department, on Jan. 8 filed separate complaints with the town's human resources department against Theresa Kohutka, who then was a messenger at the town animal shelter, Newsday previously reported.

Kouvatsos, 41, of East Rockaway, alleged that, "On or about Friday, January 5, 2024 at 9:30 p.m., employee Theresa Kohutka posted a photo of me on the social media platform 'Facebook' with commentary that was sexual in nature." 

The "unwelcome" conduct was "directed at me due to my sexual orientation," said Kouvatsos, who is gay.

Kohutka, 57, of Lake Grove, also served as president of the CSEA Local 880, the union that represents Hempstead Town employees. She was suspended by the union in 2023, her email records obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request show.

According to the state comptroller’s office, Kohutka retired from her town job Feb. 5. 

Acevedo, 68, alleged that Kohutka's Jan. 5 Facebook post included a picture of her that was obtained from the local union's archives during working hours and included commentary that "was lewd and sexual in nature." 

Hempstead, in a March 29 response to Kouvatsos' allegations to the state agency, said, "The Town emphatically denies that it engages in any unlawful discriminatory practice and/or activity," documents show. "Being that the alleged incident occurred on social media, not during Town business hours, and Respondent Kohutka's retirement from Town employment, the Town closed its investigation." 

Acevedo and Kouvatsos alleged the post appeared on the Facebook page under the name Theresa Carroll-Kohutka.

Approached outside her Lake Grove home on April 4, Kohutka declined to talk to a reporter.

Michael Errico, who is now the local union president, declined to comment Wednesday. 

Kouvatsos also filed a sexual harassment complaint with the state Division of Human Rights, according to documents he shared with Newsday. In the Jan. 16 complaint, which mirrored the town complaint, Kouvatsos alleged that the town and Kohutka violated state human rights law that prohibits discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. He said he would like the town to enforce its sexual harassment policy and take "disciplinary action against Theresa Kohutka up to and including termination of employment."

Kouvatsos also alleged in the complaint that the town and Kohutka violated the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, known as Title VII, that bars job discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion or sex, documents show.

A spokesman for the state human rights agency on Thursday said the agency cannot confirm whether it is investigating the matter. 

Hempstead Town attorney John Maccarone in an April 10 statement to Newsday said, "The Town fully and thoroughly investigated Mr. Kouvatsos' complaint under the Town's sexual harassment policy. The Town Attorney's Office followed Hempstead Town Code to the letter of the law throughout the process." 

According to the town's response to the state, town attorneys met with Kouvatsos to discuss the allegations on Jan. 17 and made "multiple attempts at meeting" with Kohutka "but she was out of work on vacation."

Kouvatsos in an April 4 submission to the state agency further alleged the town retaliated against him since his complaint with the town. He said his duties, which include "planning, scheduling, coordinating, and directing the activities of subordinates," was diminished to reviewing "daily department reports," the letter he shared with Newsday says.

He also alleged he was "effectively shunned from any and all administrative conversations" of the public safety department, including face-to-face meetings with his direct supervisor.

The town did not respond to questions about the alleged retaliation Newsday submitted in writing on April 9.

On Wednesday, Kouvatsos said his manager resumed communicating with him on April 12. 

Acevedo told Newsday on Wednesday that the town attorney's office also interviewed her about her complaint Jan. 17, but she has not received an update on the status of her complaint.

"They never told me it was closed," she said. "The last I heard that they told me was that she was on vacation, she wouldn't come in to be interviewed, and they would turn it over to the town attorney." 

Acevedo said she was "disappointed" by the town's handling of the investigation because "it emboldens the people like Terry to think they can get away with anything." 

Kouvatsos said Wednesday that he, too, has not heard from the town about the status of the investigation beyond what the town included in its state filing. 

"They delayed it long enough for her to get out unscathed, and that's unfair," Kouvatsos said. 

Email records obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request show that Kohutka continued to use her town email for at least two days after the harassment complaints were filed against her, and that she accessed the account to accept an appointment with the union on Jan. 24 — at a time when the town said she couldn't be reached. 

The union suspended Kohutka as local union president for six months, according to an Aug. 17 email she sent to the union workforce. 

Kohutka's email didn't state the reason for her suspension.

Wendi Bowie, spokeswoman for CSEA Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, the parent organization of CSEA 880, declined to comment on April 9.

“This is an internal matter involving Terry, and we are not going to comment on internal matters,” Bowie said.

On April 4, Kouvatsos wrote to the state human rights division that the town’s investigation was inadequate and flawed.

"They did not attempt to thoroughly investigate or look into this matter," Kouvatsos wrote, including contacting any of the witnesses he provided to the town.

He raised the question whether the town had "seemingly aided and abetted" Kohutka's "escape from disciplinary action into retirement by not acting promptly or properly."

Town attorney Maccarone said in his April 10 statement that an attempt "to paint the Town as 'aiding' Ms. Kohutka is both disingenuous and inaccurate."

Under a town retirement incentive program, Kohutka would have been entitled to an $88,000 payout if she voluntarily retired before March 1, according to the formula in the program. A termination for cause would have made her ineligible for the retirement incentive, according to program documents. The town did not confirm whether Kohutka received the payout. 

Violations of the town’s sexual harassment policy can be punished with termination, according to the policy. But being terminated for cause would not affect her state pension, according to Rebecca Dangoor, spokeswoman for the state comptroller’s office.

Hempstead Town has concluded its probe into complaints filed by two staffers who alleged that a now former employee's social media post violated the town's sexual harassment policy as a state investigation into the same incident proceeds, a town official confirmed.

Town spokesman Brian Devine in an email Wednesday said the town's internal investigation into the employees' complaints has been closed. 

The town, in its March 29 letter to the state, said it closed the investigation, citing that the incident occurred on social media, not on town time, and that the former employee was not reachable and then retired, documents shared with Newsday show.

Billy Frank Kouvatsos, a chief public safety officer, and Patricia Acevedo, a clerk in the parks department, on Jan. 8 filed separate complaints with the town's human resources department against Theresa Kohutka, who then was a messenger at the town animal shelter, Newsday previously reported.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Town of Hempstead has closed investigations into alleged sexual harassment arising from a social media post.
  • The New York State Division of Human Rights is now investigating the incident.
  • One employee alleges he's faced retaliation at work after making a complaint.

Kouvatsos, 41, of East Rockaway, alleged that, "On or about Friday, January 5, 2024 at 9:30 p.m., employee Theresa Kohutka posted a photo of me on the social media platform 'Facebook' with commentary that was sexual in nature." 

The "unwelcome" conduct was "directed at me due to my sexual orientation," said Kouvatsos, who is gay.

Kohutka, 57, of Lake Grove, also served as president of the CSEA Local 880, the union that represents Hempstead Town employees. She was suspended by the union in 2023, her email records obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request show.

According to the state comptroller’s office, Kohutka retired from her town job Feb. 5. 

Acevedo, 68, alleged that Kohutka's Jan. 5 Facebook post included a picture of her that was obtained from the local union's archives during working hours and included commentary that "was lewd and sexual in nature." 

Hempstead, in a March 29 response to Kouvatsos' allegations to the state agency, said, "The Town emphatically denies that it engages in any unlawful discriminatory practice and/or activity," documents show. "Being that the alleged incident occurred on social media, not during Town business hours, and Respondent Kohutka's retirement from Town employment, the Town closed its investigation." 

Acevedo and Kouvatsos alleged the post appeared on the Facebook page under the name Theresa Carroll-Kohutka.

Approached outside her Lake Grove home on April 4, Kohutka declined to talk to a reporter.

Michael Errico, who is now the local union president, declined to comment Wednesday. 

Kouvatsos files state complaint

Kouvatsos also filed a sexual harassment complaint with the state Division of Human Rights, according to documents he shared with Newsday. In the Jan. 16 complaint, which mirrored the town complaint, Kouvatsos alleged that the town and Kohutka violated state human rights law that prohibits discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. He said he would like the town to enforce its sexual harassment policy and take "disciplinary action against Theresa Kohutka up to and including termination of employment."

Kouvatsos also alleged in the complaint that the town and Kohutka violated the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, known as Title VII, that bars job discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion or sex, documents show.

A spokesman for the state human rights agency on Thursday said the agency cannot confirm whether it is investigating the matter. 

Hempstead Town attorney John Maccarone in an April 10 statement to Newsday said, "The Town fully and thoroughly investigated Mr. Kouvatsos' complaint under the Town's sexual harassment policy. The Town Attorney's Office followed Hempstead Town Code to the letter of the law throughout the process." 

According to the town's response to the state, town attorneys met with Kouvatsos to discuss the allegations on Jan. 17 and made "multiple attempts at meeting" with Kohutka "but she was out of work on vacation."

Rebuttal to town's response

Kouvatsos in an April 4 submission to the state agency further alleged the town retaliated against him since his complaint with the town. He said his duties, which include "planning, scheduling, coordinating, and directing the activities of subordinates," was diminished to reviewing "daily department reports," the letter he shared with Newsday says.

He also alleged he was "effectively shunned from any and all administrative conversations" of the public safety department, including face-to-face meetings with his direct supervisor.

The town did not respond to questions about the alleged retaliation Newsday submitted in writing on April 9.

On Wednesday, Kouvatsos said his manager resumed communicating with him on April 12. 

Acevedo told Newsday on Wednesday that the town attorney's office also interviewed her about her complaint Jan. 17, but she has not received an update on the status of her complaint.

"They never told me it was closed," she said. "The last I heard that they told me was that she was on vacation, she wouldn't come in to be interviewed, and they would turn it over to the town attorney." 

Acevedo said she was "disappointed" by the town's handling of the investigation because "it emboldens the people like Terry to think they can get away with anything." 

Kouvatsos said Wednesday that he, too, has not heard from the town about the status of the investigation beyond what the town included in its state filing. 

"They delayed it long enough for her to get out unscathed, and that's unfair," Kouvatsos said. 

Town probe criticized

Email records obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request show that Kohutka continued to use her town email for at least two days after the harassment complaints were filed against her, and that she accessed the account to accept an appointment with the union on Jan. 24 — at a time when the town said she couldn't be reached. 

The union suspended Kohutka as local union president for six months, according to an Aug. 17 email she sent to the union workforce. 

Kohutka's email didn't state the reason for her suspension.

Wendi Bowie, spokeswoman for CSEA Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, the parent organization of CSEA 880, declined to comment on April 9.

“This is an internal matter involving Terry, and we are not going to comment on internal matters,” Bowie said.

On April 4, Kouvatsos wrote to the state human rights division that the town’s investigation was inadequate and flawed.

"They did not attempt to thoroughly investigate or look into this matter," Kouvatsos wrote, including contacting any of the witnesses he provided to the town.

He raised the question whether the town had "seemingly aided and abetted" Kohutka's "escape from disciplinary action into retirement by not acting promptly or properly."

Town attorney Maccarone said in his April 10 statement that an attempt "to paint the Town as 'aiding' Ms. Kohutka is both disingenuous and inaccurate."

Under a town retirement incentive program, Kohutka would have been entitled to an $88,000 payout if she voluntarily retired before March 1, according to the formula in the program. A termination for cause would have made her ineligible for the retirement incentive, according to program documents. The town did not confirm whether Kohutka received the payout. 

Violations of the town’s sexual harassment policy can be punished with termination, according to the policy. But being terminated for cause would not affect her state pension, according to Rebecca Dangoor, spokeswoman for the state comptroller’s office.

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