Former employee sues Chester for gender discrimination

Chester. Loretta (Lori) Streichert's lawsuit says she's the victim of the town's unfair hiring and salary decisions, in which men were favored time and again. Her lawsuit makes the third active discrimination suit brought against the town this year.

| 11 Sep 2019 | 11:10

Loretta (Lori) Streichert, a former employee of the Chester Recreation Department, is suing the town for gender discrimination.

The lawsuit says Streichert was ignored by town officials, and that she was the victim of the town's unfair hiring and salary decisions.

She is being represented by Michael Sussman of Chester, a civil rights attorney. Her lawsuit makes the third active discrimination suit brought against the town this year.

Streichert says the pattern of discrimination began when the board abolished the Parks and Recreation Commission in June 2014. The town board ignored the most qualified female candidate, Kaitlin Moran, to lead the new department that was created to replace the commission, according to her lawsuit.

Streichert was appointed full-time recreation coordinator but at 80 percent of the hourly salary associated with a full-time position, the lawsuit says. Streichert was hired at $23.99 per hour, 85 percent of the rate a man received, and she was given no title.

Walter Popailo was subsequently hired as part-time recreation director at an annual salary of $36,236. His position then transitioned from part-time to full-time. On June 24, 2015, the town board corrected a motion made earlier that month to state that Popailo's hiring was provisional, pending the results of a civil service examination he had not yet taken.

In January 2016, the town confirmed Popailo as full-time parks and recreation director at a salary of $55,000. His status was still provisional because no civil service test was available for the recreation director's title. In the same meeting, the town board listed Streichert's hourly wage at $26.66, which was still less than the hourly wage of every male employee in the highway department. It was furthermore not a 100 percent hourly wage, but 95 percent of a clerk's wage.

When Streichert finally took on added duties, she was given the title of director to manage the new senior citizen/recreation center, which opened in July 2018.

Streichert's lawsuit says she never got the same treatment from the town, in either salary or title, that Popailo received. She was paid at a lower percentage than any of the men serving in the same or similar positions.

The lawsuit cites reports that Popailo allegedly made embarrassing comments caught on video at the Association of Towns meeting held in New York City in 2017. Soon after that incident, the town board decided not to make Popailo's status permanent. Nevertheless, Popailo was hired this past April as director of the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center, which was recently purchased by the town

Passed over for performing arts center director

Streichert and Popailo were the only two applicants for the performing arts center director position created earlier this year. The town board limited itself to the Orange County civil service list, choosing not to open the position to all qualified candidates in New York State.

When Streichert and Popailo took the civil service exam, Streichert got a higher score. But the town board unanimously agreed to hire Popailo.

The Chronicle was present at the town board meeting on the night Popailo was interviewed. Before the meeting, Town Supervisor Bob Valentine said that since Streichert and Popailo were on the Orange County list, they could be interviewed. Streichert told the paper that night she didn't know interviews were taking place.

After Popailo's interview, Valentine asked Streichert if she wanted to be interviewed as well. She told him that she wanted the same circumstances Popailo had. She told The Chronicle that she wanted a chance to dress for success and to bring auxiliary materials that would showcase her qualifications.

Popailo never wore a suit and tie at previous meetings, but he was wearing a suit and tie that night. He brought no materials with him to the interview.

Streichert has a master's degree in public administration. She wanted the board to know how she would make the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center, which was recently purchased by the town, outstanding.

She was interviewed in an executive session at the next meeting. She brought a folder, seen by The Chronicle, brimming with ideas to share with the board.

Popailo was given the position following Streichert's interview.

Popailo told The Chronicle that, after he was hired, he worked picking up paper and mowing grass. When the mower stopped in the mud, he said, he had to call Valentine to come and pull the mower out.

Popailo said he was tired during his first two weeks on the job because he was also working the last two weeks of a previous job.

'It's unfortunate'

Sussman said Sheel Patel of the Morris, Duffy and Alanzo law firm is representing the town, including Alex Jamieson, the town supervisor at the time of Popailo's hire. Jamieson was forced to resign in November 2018 as part of a plea bargain after he was found to have fraudulently collected unemployment insurance benefits.

Jamieson told The Chronicle he had no comment.

The current supervisor, Bob Valentine, said he doesn't want to comment without the benefit of legal counsel.

"It's unfortunate is all I have to say," Valentine said.

Councilwoman Cindy Smith said, "She (Streicher) quit. She didn't like what was going on. No, I don't have a comment."

Popailo and Councilman Ryan Wensley did not return messages.

The suit asks for pecuniary damages and attorney's fees. The Vero Agency of Chester is handling the insurance claim for this suit on behalf of the town.

Other discrimination lawsuits against the town of Chester:
Jeremiah Johnson El, a Warwick man who claims to be a Moorish national, is suing two town police officers for allegedly harassing him during a traffic stop. The complaint filed in federal court accuses officers Bruce Chambers and Robert Bird of violating both his rights under the U.S. Constitution and his "treaty rights" under a 1787 agreement between the United States and Morocco. His complaint says Chambers "made a comment that was negative regarding Plaintiff's indigenous status" after following him for a mile and then pulling him over.
The Greens of Chester developers are suing the town for derogatory comments officials made over the past few years against their housing development for Hasidic Jews, and for breach of contract.