April 30, 2009

ILR Sued for Age, Sex Discrimination

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For the third time since 2002, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations is defending itself in court against allegations that it was discriminatory in laying off female workers.
Francine Moccio filed a lawsuit against the University on April 8, claiming that she was discriminated against based on both her age and gender.
Moccio was hired in 1990 as a Senior Extension Associate for the ILR Extension program in New York City. At the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year, the 58-year-old was notified that she would be laid off at the end of this semester.
“The ILR school does a lot in training other people how not to discriminate,” said Moccio’s attorney, David Marek. “It’s important that if they have problems internally, these problems are addressed.”
In addition to her position as Senior Extension Associate, Moccio had been appointed Director for the Institute for Women in Work. The IWW is one of the nation’s leading think tanks and advocators for women in the work place, and focuses specifically on issues in New York.
Recently, the University announced that it will be ending its Workforce, Industry and Economic Development team, which includes the IWW.
The University maintains that Moccio’s termination was not discriminatory, and was instead the result of financial constraints and the cutting of that program.
“New York State budget cuts and other financial pressures have led to changes in the ILR School’s Extension-based programmatic activities,” said Dean Harry Katz in a letter to the President’s Council of Cornell Women. “While this has resulted in cutbacks in some programs that involve women and work, the ILR School will continue to be deeply involved in and committed to research, teaching, and outreach activities concerning women and work and gender issues.”
Katz declined to comment about Moccio’s specific case or elaborate further on the matter.
Deputy University Counsel Nelson Roth also declined to comment on the case because the litigation is still pending.
The issue of discrimination arose after Moccio had a child in June 2006. Moccio received permission from the University to take a one-semester, academic parental leave. During this time, she worked part time at home and part time at the New York City offices, but refused to sign a workflex agreement that would allow the University to reduce her salary to part time, according to court documents.
It was during this time period, Moccio alleged, that her supervisors harassed her over reduced work hours as she raised two young children. Additionally, she received punitive pay increases which were well below the cost of living, she stated in her complaint.
Moccio also claimed that in summer 2008 she was forced to move her office to another part of her office building over her objections. The office next to Moccio’s was occupied by a younger man, whose refusal to move offices was honored by Dean Katz and ILR, according to court documents. After Moccio filed a complaint with the University’s Office of Workforce Equity, Diversity and Life Quality, she received a pay increase approximately 2 percent lower than her peer employees, which she alleged was in retaliation to her complaint.
“Our hope would be that the ILR school fixes some of the internal problems that we think exist in the firing process,” Marek said. “If you look since 2002, they fire a disproportionate amount of women.”
Moccio was the third woman to bring a discrimination lawsuit brought against ILR in the past seven years, all three of whom have been represented by Marek.
One case in 2002 involved six women being laid off, all were over the age of 50. Another case brought to court in 2005 involved Margaret Leibowitz, one of thirteen women who were laid off during what the University called a financial crisis. In that case, the court ruled against Leibowitz in favor of the ILR school.
“The firm where I work does a lot of these kind of lawsuits, where they were fired from their job for some unlawful reason,” Marek said. “I know that Ms. Moccio would love to go back to her job at the ILR school.”
“Women are often treated much worse than me at universities across the country,” said Marek. “Our hope is that we could fix that, and Universities could start treating women equally.”