While serving as commissioner of the Suffolk County Board of Elections in Long Island, Republican House candidate Nick LaLota fired a woman who had repeatedly complained of sexual harassment—for years—by a fellow election worker. The woman, Patricia Montanino, originally complained about her coworkers’ behavior in 2014 and eventually went so far as to file a police report, but says she was “met with hostility.”
LaLota fired her in April 2016. “It was more of her attitude that was substandard than her performance. Sadly, her performance was pretty decent,” LaLota said in a deposition taken in April 2018 as a part of Montanino’s civil suit against the elections board
“Quite honestly, if we put down every reason that Montanino was terminated, it might be a 100-page report to the EEOC. So for brevity sake, I think that less was included, but the reasons to terminate Montanino were longer than the Long Island Expressway,” the candidate contended.
LaLota is running in a very competitive race for New York’s 1st congressional district, vacated by gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin. After the state’s redistricting in 2020, Trump only carried the district by 4 points in the national election. The Cook Political Report—a gold standard for measuring a race’s competitiveness—only holds the race as “lean Republican” by 4 points.
LaLota was the youngest person in three decades appointed to Suffolk County Board of Elections commissioner, according to his biography. Jezebel reached out to both Montanino and the LaLota campaign for comment and has not heard back from either as of publication time.
As background on the harassment case: Montanino was hired to be the election clerk for the county back in 2012. In her federal lawsuit filed after her dismissal, Montanino alleges that a fellow election clerk began “subjecting [her] to offensive and unwelcome sexual gestures, sexual touching, and sexual comments at work” starting in 2013. The colleague allegedly tried to massage her shoulders, made “sexually suggestive comments” about having sex, and even referred to his own spouse by Montanino’s name. She contends that he also grabbed her breast, and followed her around the office, even if his work did not necessitate them being in the same room, writing in her lawsuit that it made her feel “uncomfortable and unsafe” at work. When Montanino tried to change her break and lunch schedules, she said her colleague continues to follow her around and watch her.
By 2015, Montanino had complained about his behavior to management and even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Then she submitted another written complaint addressed directly to LaLota in his position as commissioner. “This kind of behavior is uncomfortable and unacceptable. I should be able to come to work and not feel threatened, intimidated, insulted or ashamed,” Montanino wrote in September 2015, according to the lawsuit. “Move on and forget it, is easily said than nothing done. The harassment is becoming a weekly occurrence.”
In January 2016, Montanino alleges that a supervisor told her to “try not to create a lawsuit,” alluding that she should shut up about her repeated claims of harassment. Still, Montanino again complained that she was still being harassed in March 2016, calling her colleague’s conduct “disgusting, frightening, and illegal” in a writing. Management even attempted to put her and her alleged harasser in the same room for “no proper work purposes,” according to the suit.
By April, Montanino seemed to have had enough. A supervisor said Montanino should “go to the police or stop complaining,” so she did as instructed and filed a complaint with the Suffolk County Police Department on April 3, 2016. The lawsuit quotes part of her police complaint:
“[Montanino] states having on-going problems with suspect at work. [Montanino] states suspect follows her around work and stares at her. [Montanino] states he says inappropriate things to her, he has told her he has wanted to f*** her and has made inappropriate kissing gestures to her. [Montanino] has made numerous complaints to her supervisor and he has been told to leave her alone, but the behavior has continued.”
Montanino alleges that later in the month, police told her that the elections board told police not to investigate her complaint.
About two weeks later, Montanino says she was finally provided with an “official” sexual harassment complaint form to file. She was told to bring it in by Wednesday April 20, 2016, a day after Election Day—but she says she worked about 10 hours with no breaks or lunch on Election Day and didn’t have time to meet the deadline.
Before she could get to work on that Wednesday, LaLota fired her on a cell phone call, according to her suit. Montanino never had a chance to file the office’s official paperwork.