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Peekskill Housing Faces Discrimination Lawsuit

PEEKSKILL,  N.Y. -- The city's housing authority is facing litigation from a recently fired employee charging sexual discrimination and other misconduct.

The notice of claim was filed Oct. 13 by an unnamed female plaintiff, who is being represented by White Plains-based attorney Mitchell Weingarden.

In the claim, the plaintiff, who worked as an administrative assistant, alleges she was subjected to "demeaning and discriminatory treatment" by executive director Harold Phipps.

Among the accusations in the claim are that Phipps took away some of her job responsibilities listed in her job description because he told her they needed to be handled by a man and that he told her "men do not report to women."

The plaintiff also alleges she witnessed and was asked to take part in legal and regulatory violations by the housing authority, and claims she was fired in August 2011 partly because she threatened to report the violations.

The Peekskill Housing Authority also did not adequately train its staff and failed to enforce federal, state and county laws protecting employees, according to the suit. It also alleges the authority staff did not provide proper notice of insurance coverage during or after her employment.

The legal action was brought up by Westchester activist Darrell Davis at the Feb. 27 council meeting, where he accused the city of ignoring the claim and denying it existed.

Peekskill Mayor Mary Foster said she didn't initially know about the claim because it had been appealed by the corporation counsel before it ever reached her, something she said was not that uncommon.

"The city filed a response saying that we denied that it pertains to us," Foster said of the claim.

The decision to not renew Phipps' contract and hire his replacement was the responsibility of the housing board, not the city, Foster said. It is the housing board that is responsible for the operations of city housing and its personnel, she said.

"This is their business and HUD's business and their attorney's business," Foster said.

The mayor said the housing board had been interviewing at least one executive candidate at the end of last year before chairman Ron Abad resigned. Board member Leyla Ditterlizzi has since taken over leadership of the board.

"My understanding is they had a candidate and they were negotiating terms and seeing if they met civil service and other requirements," Foster said. "I'm not sure what's happened since then."

The Peekskill Housing Authority has had more than its fair share of legal action in recent years. Most recently, a federal court jury for the Southern District of New York awarded a $1 million settlement Wednesday to former executive director Gheevarghese “Thomas” Thankachan, who was fired from his position in 2007 and claimed it was due to racial discrimination.

Calls to Ditterlizzi left at the Peekskill Housing Authority were not immediately returned.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development spokesman Adam Glantz said he would provide comment as soon as he could.

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