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The Seven Year Suit; Also, Lynne Stewart's Conviction

by Andy Humm, Mar 08, 2005
 

A Manhattan jury finally heard the case of “Mark A. Taylor against New York University Medical Center and Peter L. Ferrara,” a civil rights case that had taken more than seven years to go to trial. The jury deliberated for just thirty minutes, and decided in Taylor's favor.

While there is no typical civil rights case, Taylor’s shows what a plaintiff sometimes has to go through to get his or her day in court and to prevail.

Taylor was working at New York University Medical Center as director of External Affairs in 1994 when his problem began. A biography of the late Leonard Bernstein was published describing Taylor as the maestro’s “last love.” It was passed around the office with the pages on Taylor marked.

That is when Peter Ferrara, a colleague, publicly called him a pansy and started making gay jokes, according to Taylor. (Ferrara, who is now director of public affairs for Yeshiva University, has denied Taylor's charges). "Every gay man has been called a faggot or a pansy," Taylor says. "I tried to make a joke about it to defuse a potentially volatile situation. I worked hard and kept to myself." But three years later, Ferrara was promoted to be Taylor's boss. Taylor was fired within months.

That’s when Taylor decided to go to court, charging job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which has been illegal in New York City since 1986.

“Ninety-five percent of the cases are settled out of court,” said Michael O’Neill, Taylor's attorney. “If you have smart lawyers on both sides, they will be able to evaluate the case. In cases that don’t get settled, it is because one side is being unreasonable.”

New York University Medical Center strongly contested Taylor’s charges from the start, Taylor says, filing motion after motion. "They tried to beat me into a stump," he says. New York University spokesman John Beckman has said that Taylor’s claim was “baseless.” When the case finally came to court, the jury obviously disagreed. It awarded Taylor two million dollars in back pay, and for "mental anguish."

These seven years have not been easy for Taylor. After he filed his lawsuit, he says, "I started getting harassing phone calls at home. I don't know if it was anyone from NYU."

He also had trouble getting another job. "One of the consultants I hired for the court said that when you’re fired, you’re ‘damaged goods,’” he said. Filing a lawsuit against a previous employer can make potential employers wary of you.

“I had thousands of good working relationships after 15 years at NYU,” he said. After he filed the suit, “I found out about five of those relationships were real.” For a while, he worked for friends and took freelance assignments. “The theory is that it takes five years to get back on your feet. In five years, I went bankrupt." Today, he has "a very good job," he says, but "there is no describing the damage that you incur being in litigation when you’re out on the job market.”

Would Taylor go through this litigation again, knowing what he does now after seven years? “I don’t think so,” he replies. Taylor helped Bernstein through the last disease-ridden year of his life, saying that it included “the greatest highs and lows, but I would do it again in a minute. But this case? I’d have to think long and hard.”

Taylor doesn’t think New York University would today tolerate the kind of treatment to which he was subjected and had complained about. “They have to take legitimate complaints seriously,” he said.

But the case is not necessarily over; a spokesman for New York University says it plans to appeal.

O’Neill said, "I’m confident that we will prevail in the end. It is important for people who have had their civil rights violated to do right by themselves. Some people, however, walk away for good reasons. Suing a big institution is never easy. They have so much more in resources. It is ludicrous to say the plaintiff has the upper hand in these cases. People go through an awful lot.”

Lawyer for Terrorist Convicted of Aiding Terrorism

In one of the most closely watched cases in the city this past year, civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart was found guilty of “aiding Islamic terrorism by smuggling messages out of jail from a terrorist client,” the New York Times reported.

Stewart, who has represented many unpopular clients over the years, had been the lawyer for Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman who was convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. She is vowing to appeal and has set up a Web sitearguing her case and seeking support.

Andrew Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, argued on the op-ed page of the Timesthat Stewart’s conviction was perverse, in part because it was based on a regulation issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft rather than a law passed by Congress. He sees it as a fundamental undermining of the principle of attorney-client privilege. The regulations give the government the right to eavesdrop on conversations between terrorist suspects and their lawyers.

New York Post columnist John Podhoretz titled his column after the verdict, “Lockin’ Up Lynne: Justice for an Evil-Doer.”

David Cole in The Nation magazineargued that while she violated an “administrative agreement,” Stewart committed no crime. “I think Stewart crossed the line from zealous advocacy to wrongful conduct. But she is no terrorist. At most she deserves a disciplinary proceeding before the bar.”

Stewart is free awaiting sentencing on July 15, which could put her away for 30 years.

Andy Humm is a former member of the City Commission on Human Rights. He is co-host of the weekly "Gay USA" on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (34 on Time-Warner; 107 on RCN) on Thursdays at 11 PM.  


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