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Nassau County to pay $600G to officer in harassment case

A federal appeals court has upheld a decision ordering Nassau County to pay $604,589 in salary differential to a correction officer barred from becoming a police officer in retaliation for a previous sexual harassment lawsuit she filed.

The court did give the county the chance to reargue in the U.S. District Court whether nearly $200,000 in attorney fees and costs should be awarded to Fred Brewington, the Hempstead lawyer who represented Patricia Luca of East Meadow in the case.

The Aug. 19 decision affirmed every other aspect of the jury's verdict and decision by U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block in Brooklyn.

"The county was extremely disappointed in the opinion. We are considering our options," said Nassau County Attorney Lorna Goodman.

Luca, 40, had been a correction officer more than four years when she filed her sexual harassment lawsuit in 2000.

She charged that she was sexually harassed at the Nassau County Jail in East Meadow as the result of a in-house seminar on cultural diversity. She said a fictitious "scenario" that was distributed and used her name had embarrassed and humiliated her and made her the butt of lewd comments from many of her colleagues, destroying her self-esteem and career. She took a settlement offer in mid-2003.

On Dec. 3, 2003, according to court papers, Luca, who had placed 20th among hundreds of applicants on the police civil service exam given in 1994, was told that she was a "non-select" candidate on the certified Civil Service List and did not place in the incoming Nassau County Police Academy that began Jan. 16, 2004.

She filed the current lawsuit, saying that because of the previous one she was harassed by police officers investigating her background. She added that because she was a "non-select" on the Civil Service List, she was also rejected by several village police departments.

In the current case, a federal jury in 2007 gave her $150,000 in compensatory damages. The judge then calculated what Luca could have earned had she become a police officer at age 38 and retired at 62. Then he added how much more she could get with a police officer's pension for another 20 years.

"The amount of 'front' pay is almost double that authorized by any other court [in similar cases]," Goodman said.

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