September 18, 2006

Former ILR Extension Employees Continue Cases Against Cornell

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The multi-million dollar lawsuit filed against Cornell by two former extension employees from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations has moved into the discovery phase, and lawyers for the plaintiffs hope to move to trial by the end of the calendar year. The lawsuit, filed in 2003, accuses Cornell, the ILR School and individuals employed by ILR of discrimination on the basis of age and gender and claims millions of dollars in damages from the University.

Peggy Leibowitz ’73, former senior extension associate II, one of two plaintiffs involved in the lawsuit, filed an initial complaint with the District Court of the Southern District of New York in December 2003, alleging that she was terminated from a tenured position through the ILR Extension School on the basis of age and gender. Leibowitz, a former senior extension associate, is seeking more than $1.9 million in damages from Cornell as compensation for her contract.

A second plaintiff, Thomas Germano, former senior extension associate II and director of the ILR extension office in Long Island, is suing Cornell on the basis of age discrimination, alleging that he was forced into early retirement from a tenured position in the ILR Extension School because of his age. The case of Germano, another former senior extension associate, has recently moved out of discovery and must await similar progress in the Leibowitz lawsuit before it can move to trial.

Attorney David Marek, an associate in the law firm of Liddle & Robinson, represents the two former Cornell employees. Marek was encouraged by the progress of the two cases and hoped to move to trial this winter.

“Our hope is to get to trial as quickly as possible,” Marek said. “We’re anxious to get the facts in front of a jury.”

Among the defendants named in the Leibowitz-Germano lawsuit are Edward Lawler, former dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and Ronald Seeber, former associate dean of the ILR school and current executive director of the Institute on Conflict Resolution.

In response to an e-mail seeking comment, Lawler deferred to Mr. Nelson Roth, deputy University Counsel. Roth declined to comment on either of the two cases at this time, citing University policy but was confident in a previous interview with The Sun that Cornell would be victorious.

“These lawsuits are completely without merit, and we intend to defend vigorously against them,” Roth said. “Although I do not want to discuss specific facts publicly before this matter proceeds through the judicial process, I can say that although personnel decisions are never easy, the ILR School made reasoned judgments totally unaffected either by the age or sex of the plaintiffs.”

Roth also dismissed the claims to tenure made by both Leibowitz and Germano and said that tenure cannot be granted by the ILR Extension School.

In the case of Germano, the courts have set a Nov. 7 deadline for both sides to file motions for summary judgement. In Leibowitz’s case, the deadline is Dec. 15.