A female Long Island Rail Road conductor who was sexually assaulted by a passenger on a Ronkonkoma line train last summer has filed notice she intends to sue the MTA, contending the nation's largest transportation network failed to protect her while on the job, according to court records filed in state Supreme Court in Nassau.
The train conductor, who lives in Suffolk County, was five months pregnant when passenger Michael Harewood groped her breasts while apparently intoxicated on a Penn Station-bound LIRR train on Aug. 20, records state.
Harewood, of Huntington, later became the first person to be banned from riding the LIRR. The conductor has yet to return to work, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, said Philip Dinhofer, her Rockville Centre-based attorney.
"She has apprehensions about dealing with the public," Dinhofer said. "Her faith and trust in people has been shattered. She didn't feel like the railroad offered her any protection on the job and just threw her out there.
"The railroad has been having a problem with the assaults on uniformed train crew for the past three years. It's been increasing exponentially, and they've done nothing to provide a safer workplace for these conductors," he said.
Newsday is declining to identify the conductor because she was a victim of sexual assault.
Last week, Dinhofer filed a notice of claim disclosing his intention to sue the MTA. Typically, notices of claim, which are precursors to lawsuits against public entities, must be filed within 90 days of an incident but the law carves out exceptions to allow for additional time during law enforcement investigations, he said.
The notice of claim contends the MTA was "negligent" for failing to put a police officer on every LIRR train and failing to keep Harewood off the rails, despite multiple prior criminal incidents.
The MTA declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Anthony Simon, who leads Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation, the conductor's union, said the organization has supported the victim "throughout her time out from this incident. We have worked with the MTA police on increasing train patrols and protocols to hold these types of criminals accountable."
Harewood boarded the Manhattan-bound train at Deer Park shortly before 5 p.m. while drinking from an open bottle of red wine that he later poured over himself to "cool off," according to the MTA police incident report. Harewood told the conductor she was "pretty" before allegedly harassing two 17-year-old female passengers who later walked to the other end of the train car, the report said.
After leaving the Wyandanch station, the conductor approached Harewood to collect his fare.
"He told me he doesn't believe in tickets. I went to walk away," the conductor told police. "He then got up and passed his left … hand over my right breast and grabbed my arm. I immediately pulled away. As he held my arm, he asked if I had a boyfriend. He stated that 'we could work something out.' I walked away from him and into the next train car."
Harewood then began harassing a mother and daughter as the conductor sought police assistance, records show. Harewood exited the train at Bethpage but was arrested on Sept. 6 in Hicksville, police said.
He pleaded guilty in November to third-degree sexual abuse, a misdemeanor, and was sentenced to 60 days in jail. As part of his plea deal, Harewood was banned for two years from riding the LIRR, a first for the agency. Before beginning his sentence, Harewood, who could not be reached Monday, was rearrested after being spotted boarding a train in Deer Park.
Michael Pernesiglio, Harewood's defense attorney in the case, said he no longer represents him.
Records show that since late December, Harewood has been arrested three times in Queens on charges including public lewdness, assault, harassment, menacing, attempted grand larceny and attempted robbery.