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Ex-Nassau worker wins $1M after political firing

A former Nassau County employee has won more than $1 million in back pay after a Supreme Court jury this week found she was laid off in 1992 because she was a Democrat in a Republican administration.

Roberta Miller, 72, is entitled to 17 years of back pay and reinstatement to her civil service job as a special program coordinator in the Department of Senior Citizen Affairs, according to her attorney Louis Stober of Garden City. Stober estimated her back pay at $1.1 million, not including interest, accumulated vacation, sick and personal days or pension credit.

After a week-long trial before Supreme Court Justice Ute Lally, the jury decided Monday that Nassau "acted in bad faith in discharging her based on her political affiliation."

Stober, who also represents the Civil Service Employees Association, said, "This verdict vindicates Ms. Miller's fight for justice and proves that when exposed to the bright light of a jury's impartial scrutiny, decisions based on patronage will not stand."

A county spokeswoman said, "We're exploring our options" in response to the verdict.

Miller, formerly of Massapequa, is now retired and living in Florida. She had worked eight years for the county and was an active Democrat when she was laid off, Stober said. He added that Miller, who could not be reached, was portrayed as the "token Democrat" in the department and was terminated when many others could have been let go.

About 2,600 county workers were laid off in 1992 when the county then - like today - faced a severe budget crisis because of a national economic downturn. While then-County Executive Thomas Gulotta, a Republican, proposed raising taxes by about 25 percent, the Board of Supervisors, led by then-Hempstead presiding supervisor Joseph Mondello, the current state and county Republican chairman, reduced the tax hike and ordered layoffs instead.

Miller originally sued the county in 1992 with eight other employees who contended they had been improperly laid off or demoted. Unlike Miller, the others did not claim political discrimination.

Those eight settled in 2005 after state courts found in a different case that the Board of Supervisors must abolish an employee's position prior to any layoff - a vote that wasn't taken by the board until 1993. Stober said the eight each settled for one-year's pay plus 15 years interest, totaling about $100,000 each.

Stober said the case took so long because the courts first waited for the other case to be decided and then found the attorney for the county, whom Stober did not identify, was mentally incompetent.

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