Assistant Niagara County District Attorney Files Sexual Harassment Action

Attorney Alleges Discrimination, Harassment and Denigration of Women

In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Buffalo, New York, in January, a female assistant district attorney alleged that the Niagara County prosecutor’s office is "infected" with a sexually hostile environment, one where men and women are held to "wholly different standards" in their work duties.

Elizabeth Donatello, a member of Niagara County’s Special Victims Unit and a top prosecutor who was named Prosecutor of the Year in 2014 by the Buffalo Crime Stoppers, said that the work environment at the district attorney’s office is "unbearable." She stated in her complaint that Niagara County District Attorney Michael Violante repeatedly made "off-color" comments about her and other women in the office, including comments about weight, hair style and breast size. Donatello said that Violante had specifically stated that he didn’t want women in the DA’s office to get pregnant because they would use all the maternity leave available.

She also alleged that she is unfairly compensated at approximately $30,000 less annually than the other prosecutor in her unit. Donatello, who joined the Niagara County DA’s office in 2004, is in charge of the Special Victims Unit’s caseload on child pornography and Internet crimes. In her complaint, she alleged that she "performs the lion’s share" of all work done in the unit, and that her conviction rate far exceeds her partner in the unit. She contends that she works 50 or more hours every week, and that her partner puts in about half that amount of time.

A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office said that Violante "adamantly" denies all allegations. He also contends that the pay disparity is based on a salary schedule within the District Attorney’s office, suggesting that the difference in longevity and pay grade is the difference. "[T]here is no disparity in pay in the District Attorney’s Office based on gender," he said. Nonetheless, the Niagara County District Attorney’s office has indicated that it is investigating the facts surrounding the pay inequality.

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