Judge rejects CU’s dismissal of sexual harassment and retaliation claims from former executives

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A federal judge rejected a request from the conserved $ 4.3 billion Municipal Credit Union in New York to dismiss allegations by a former top executive who claims her supervisors ignored and retaliated against her for allegations of sexual harassment from the former MCU President and CEO Kam Wong.

Former MCU Vice President of Mortgage Operations Anie Akpe-Lewis claims in her lawsuit that instead of investigating and remediating Wong’s alleged sexual harassment, the credit union and some of its supervisors allegedly subjected her to reduced bonuses, she was they denied her regular evaluations, excluded her from monthly meetings with her colleagues, and ridiculed her for her afro hairstyle.

“Given the plaintiff’s (Akpe-Lewis) minimal pleading burden at this stage, the facts should be further explored during discovery,” wrote US District Court Judge William F. Kuntz for the District. East New York in Brooklyn in its ruling published last week. “Accordingly, Defendants’ (MCU) motion to dismiss plaintiff’s sexual harassment claim is dismissed.”

What’s more, Judge Kuntz also denied MCU’s motion to dismiss Akpe-Lewis’ retaliation claims, writing: “Plaintiff has the right to develop a more robust factual record on his retaliation claim.”

The judge also did not dismiss Akpe-Lewis’ claims that MCU allegedly failed to maintain a proper whistle-blowing policy after the former credit union executive claimed she discovered a growing number of defaults on MCU’s installment loans, which, according to her, were indicative of illegality, including fraud. . Akpe-Lewis also claims to have disclosed additional financial irregularities between May 2018 and January 2019, and in June 2019, she was fired.

However, Judge Kuntz dismissed Akpe-Lewis several allegations of wage claims under the Fair Wages and Labor Standards Act and was retaliated against for complaining about these issues.

“Plaintiff, an exempt employee who earned more than $ 100,000 at the time of firing, does not claim that MCU did not pay minimum wage or overtime,” Judge Kuntz wrote. “The plaintiff also does not identify any section of the FLSA that was allegedly violated. Accordingly, the FLSA plaintiff’s claim is hereby dismissed. ”

Akpe-Lewis’s various breach of contract claims against MCU were also dismissed.

In addition to Wong, who is in federal prison for embezzling nearly $ 10 million from New York City’s oldest credit union, the lawsuit named seven other top managers. Among them were P. Kay Woods and Mark Ricca, who served as CEO of MCU at different times after the credit union was retained in May 2019 after a widespread fraud and corruption scandal was exposed; former MCU chief credit officer and acting CEO Norman Kohn; Sonita DiFranco, former director of real estate loans; and human resources consultants Shannon Mashburn and Stella Jiang. All of the people listed were Akpe-Lewis supervisors.

Judge Kuntz dismissed Akpe-Lewis’ charges against DiFranco, Jiang, Woods and Ricca and ruled that the charges against him were insufficient to establish individual responsibility. However, Akpe-Lewis’s accusations against Wong, Kohn and Mashburn were not ruled out.

In her lawsuit, Akpe-Lewis claimed that from October 2007 to December 2017, she was “repeatedly targeted by a continuing illegal, unwanted and hostile pattern of quid pro quo sexual harassment by Wong, and that he constantly proposed to her have an intimate and illicit sexual relationship “.

The former senior credit union executive also claimed she repeatedly reported Wong’s harassment of Kohn, but he allegedly “summarily dismissed” her complaints, admonished her and never investigated them.

In addition to arguing that Akpe-Lewis’s sexual harassment claims should be dismissed, court documents show MCU attorneys also argued that Akpe-Lewis’s retaliation claims should be dismissed, because it is alleged that she rejected Wong’s advances. as early as October 2007, but she was not fired from her job until June 2019 and suffered no alleged adverse actions until at least eight years later, in 2015, when she began to complain about her bonus reductions.

“No fact is alleged that connects these adverse actions with the alleged rejection of Wong’s advances,” the MCU attorneys’ documents wrote. “Therefore, the plaintiff has also failed to allege sufficient facts to make a quid pro quo harassment claim.”

A court conference between the MCU and Akpe-Lewis attorneys was scheduled for December before an investigating judge.

READ MORE: Documents Reveal New Allegations of Fraud and Corruption at MCU

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