Claim names EEO officer who dismissed her complaint.
BY DUNCAN FREEMAN
The Chief Posted Wednesday, October 4, 2023 11:27 am
A longtime employee at the New York City Fire Pension Fund sued her supervisor, the fund's chief of staff and its executive director after the fund's Equal Opportunity Office failed to substantiate her claims of sexual harassment.
(https://zeta.creativecirclecdn.com/chief/original/20231004-112928-phpJgwF5Q.jpg) COURTESY FDNY
Alleging she was sexually harassed by her supervisor, a longtime employee of the New York City Fire Pension Fund is suing him and two other pension fund officials, including the chief officer of its Equal Employment and Opportunity office, which earlier this year failed to substantiate her claims.
Natalia Zorina, an associate retirement benefits examiner with the pension fund, filed suit last month in Manhattan State Supreme Court against Vadim Takser, her supervisor at the pension fund; Patrick Dunn, the fund’s executive director; and Michael Sohn, the fund’s chief of staff and chief EEO officer, alleging that they are protecting Takser and have retaliated against Zorina for coming forward with her claims.
Zorina had filed the original EEO complaint through Sohn in August who said he was unable to substantiate Zorina’s claims due to lack of evidence and witnesses.
Sohn that she couldn’t transfer to a unit where she wouldn’t have to interact with Takser, and that Takser wouldn’t be facing punishment, she filed the suit.
The suit claims that Takser repeatedly bragged about his sexual exploits with young women in Colombia and also showed Zorina explicit photos of women he claimed to have slept with. The harassment started in 2021, according to Zorina’s EEO complaint, when Takser began taking monthly weeklong trips to Colombia from where he would telework.
Upon his return, Takser would “force on me pictures and stores (sic) of his experience with young, innocent teenager girls,” Zorina wrote in the complaint. “He told me about drugs and sex orgies with underage poor kids. I repeatedly asked him not to share any more girl pictures and not to discuss it with me.”
Takser also made ”unpleasant” comments denigrating women in the pension office who were over 30 years old, discussing with Zorina, who’s in her 40s, his preference for younger women, according to the suit.
Zorina was Takser’s supervisor when the alleged harassment began, but in March of this year the fund underwent a reorganization that resulted in Takser and Zorina swapping roles even though Zorina had trained Takser and has worked at the pension fund for 15 more years than he has.
Takser, reached by phone on Friday, denied having any conversations with Zorina about trips to Colombia or about sleeping with women. He also denied showing or sending her explicit photos. “None of that happened,” he said. “I never had those conversations."
Takser did not deny taking the trips to Colombia and having relationships with young women there, telling The Chief he did not want to discuss his “personal life.” He argued that Zorina filed the suit because she was frustrated about Takser’s promotion.
Indifference from top brass
“I felt very dirty, old, and as a mother of a preteen daughter feel scared for their girls and women who could be a subject of this man's behavior,” Zorina wrote to Sohn in August, adding to her EEO complaint. “After over 20 years working in the public office, I would never [think] I would end up in this situation. ... I cannot keep it to myself anymore, and work with this man in the same office.”
In his EEO report, Sohn recommended that Zorina be transferred to a different unit, telling her that Dunn, the fund’s director, approved her transfer to the pension payroll department and outside of Takser’s purview. Zorina replied that she would still have to see and interact with Takser daily as a member of that department, and she renewed her demand to be transferred to an office separate from where Takser works.
In a response to that email, Sohn denied Zorina’s transfer request and then instructed her to
report to her current unit.
“Based on your representation that a transfer to Pension Payroll would not be sufficient, we are no longer inclined to reassign you at this time," Sohn wrote. Neither Sohn nor Dunn returned requests for comment.
Zorina is alleging that Takser’s actions and Sohn’s and Dunn’s indifference has violated her rights under both the city’s and the state’s human rights laws.
“We all know that for decades the Fire Department engaged in horrible discrimination against women,” said Arthur Schwartz, Zorina’s lawyer. “Now the Fire Department Pension Fund, and its all-male leadership made up of former officers of the Firefighters Union, has shown that it not only tolerates disgusting sexual harassment by one of its supervisors, but intends to retaliate against a 17-year employee who was clearly victimized.”
Schwartz called on city Comptroller Brad Lander, the custodian of the city’s five pension funds, to investigate Zorina’s complaints. A spokesperson for Lander declined to comment.
Since Zorina returned from vacation on Sept. 8, Takser has assigned her several time-sensitive tasks that are out of the ordinary for her job, the suit claims.
“She fears on a daily basis that she will be targeted to lose her job,” the suit says. “And [is] forced, daily, to work under the supervision of a supervisor who engaged in vile, disgusting sexual harassment, and Fund leadership that has intentionally turned a blind eye.”