Lawsuit against Oceanside Sanitation District No. 7 board of commissioners alleges sexual harassment

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The only female employee of the Town of Hempstead Sanitation District No. 7 in Oceanside filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against its board of commissioners on Feb. 19, while two recently fired employees are also suing, citing wrongful termination for defending her.

Jacqueline Urli, a secretary at the district, alleged that the commissioners permitted a “hostile, toxic” work environment, in which sexual harassment was not reprimanded. Former sanitation employees Dan Faust and Douglas Hernandez, who were fired publicly at the board’s Dec. 6 meeting, said they were terminated for sticking up for Urli. John Mannone, who has been chairman since 2017, and other board members said their firings had to do with an insurance controversy.

At a news conference on Feb. 19, Urli described the reasoning behind the suit. “When I’m in these board meetings and I’m the only woman with eight men and they start talking using filthy language, when it got directed at me is when it was most offensive,” she said. “It’s been a very difficult time, and then having my co-workers terminated because they were trying to defend me to the board, it’s just been unbearable to deal with.”

Urli, Faust and Hernandez filed separate complaints with the state Division of Human Rights and notices of claims against the district, which is an independent municipal agency that collects garbage in Ocean-side. The complaints name Commissioners Matthew Horowitz, Thomas Lanning, Austin Graff, Patrick Doherty and Mannone.

The commissioners released a joint statement about the lawsuits. “It is our policy not to comment on matters that are in active litigation; therefore, we will not comment on this matter other than to say that the board has retained council and will vigorously defend against the charges,” the statement read.

Tim Dominick, of the Melville-based Lewis Johs Avallone Aviles LLP, is representing the board along with John Ciampoli, an attorney the board retains. Dominick and Mannone did not return a call requesting comment at press time. Ciampoli referred the Herald to the statement.

Frederick Brewington, a Hempstead-based attorney, is representing Urli, Faust and Hernandez. Brewington had not responded to a request for comment at press time, but at the Feb. 19 news conference he denounced the board’s treatment of Urli. “She was chastised,” Brewington said. “She was abused. She was treated as though she were a leper.”

Urli remains employed by the district. In November she filed a written complaint with Faust, the district’s general supervisor. Nine days after Faust presented the complaint to the board, he and Hernandez were terminated, which Brewington said was done because the two men agreed to serve as witnesses in the claims against the commissioners.

“All we did was stand up for the rights for someone, did the right thing,” Hernandez said at the news conference. “To act out in the manner that they did against me and Mr. Faust, they took it to a whole other level.”

In November, Graff shared documents in a Facebook post showing that former Commissioner Joe Cibellis remained on the district’s dental plan from July 2016 through January 2017, even though he was no longer paying for the benefits. Graff wrote that those who knowingly “turned a blind eye” to the issue would be fired.

Faust and Hernandez had each spent more than two decades with the district. Four of the five commissioners voted to terminate them in December, while Lanning abstained. According to Graff’s post, after the mistake was discovered and Cibellis was taken off the plan, he was reinstated in April 2018, even though he was no longer a department employee, having lost his commissioner position in a contested race to Graff after serving from 2008 to 2016.

Faust appeared at the Feb. 7 board meeting to protest his firing. At the same meeting, Lanning motioned for Mannone to step down from his post as chairman and objected to the firing of Faust and Hernandez. Lanning declined to comment on the motion, which was not permitted because he could not push for an elected official to step down.

A person affiliated with the sanitation district, who declined to be identified, denied the sexual harassment claims. The person also noted the history between Urli’s family and the board. The commissioners terminated Urli’s brother, John Iovino, from serving as the insurance broker for the board last year. Jacqueline’s and John’s other brother, Tony Iovino, is assistant director of community services at the Oceanside Library, where Faust serves as board president.

Urli’s complaint accuses the commissioners of discrimination, sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment and engaging in retaliatory employment practices under the state Human Rights Law and the U.S. Civil Rights Act. The lawsuits seek unspecified damages, the reinstatement of Hernandez and Faust to their positions and an agreement that the commissioners adopt a sexual harassment policy and take sexual harassment training. There is now no such policy in place.