State finds ‘probable cause’ in Depew sex harassment case - The Buffalo News

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State finds ‘probable cause’ in Depew sex harassment case

A state agency has determined there is “probable cause” in the sexual harassment complaint filed against the Depew mayor, another top village official and several associates working at the Bradford Ale House.

After its preliminary investigation into the allegations, the state Division of Human Rights decided that the complaint filed by former tavern bartender Christina Kieffer last December has merit to move forward.

Among those named in the complaint are Depew Mayor Steven P. Hoffman and Frank Caparaso, who is Depew’s director of community development. Both Hoffman and Caparaso are retired Depew police officers. Hoffman’s wife, Sue, and Caparaso jointly own the Bradford Ale House at 6036 Transit Road.

Now, a pre-hearing settlement conference is scheduled for July 23, said Kieffer’s attorney, Jason R. DiPasquale. Administrative Law Judge Migdalia Pares is assigned to the case.

In an interview this week with The Buffalo News, Kieffer said she anticipates there may be an effort to negotiate a possible settlement in the case.

“There’s obvious probable cause,” Kieffer said. “Ultimately, I have done nothing wrong. I was grabbed, and Steve Hoffman just didn’t handle it properly, and felt the need to talk to other people about it.”

Kieffer complained that she was subjected to continual sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, almost from the time she started work at the Ale House. She alleges that a cook, Glenn Kunzman Jr., made unwelcome sexual comments whenever she went into the kitchen and that Glenn Kunzman Sr. stared at her breasts and made unwanted sexual remarks about parts of her body.

Additionally, she stated in her complaint that Hoffman would sit at the bar and stare at her breasts while she worked.

Those accused in the complaint denied Kieffer was subjected to sexual harassment and was fired from her job for various problems with her work and behavior at work. The defense also has stated that Kieffer knew one of the co-workers from her previous work as a stripper and that she allegedly had given him several lap dances, where she freely discussed breasts and encouraged him to touch her breasts.

The defense also has indicated in legal papers that Kieffer was comfortable with and encouraged attention she received from her male co-workers, as well as leaning over the bar to kiss male patrons and was told that was not acceptable.

Kieffer told The News she has not worked as a stripper. “When I was young, I worked as a bartender at other places in my early 20s,” she said. “Even if I was a stripper, it shouldn’t matter – my complaint.”

Kieffer provided a CD to the state agency of an hourlong recording of a lengthy conversation between Hoffman and a man identified only as “Tony” – and taped by Tony at the direction of Kieffer unbenownst to Hoffman – which may play a critical role in how the case plays out.

There was discussion in the recorded conversation about another employee inappropriately touching a female worker, according to legal papers. Hoffman reportedly said he wanted “the woman to quit her job.”

Kieffer, who now lives in West Seneca, said she wants Hoffman, who faces re-election next March, to resign his mayoral post. “I’m not looking for cash,” Kieffer said.“My biggest thing is I’m looking for the mayor to resign. My whole family history is from Depew.”

Kieffer has complained that she endured sexual harassment in the workplace and was then fired by Caparaso from her job in late August after working there about three and a half months.

Specialists with the state Division of Human Rights who signed paperwork last month in the case determined that the issues should be resolved before an administrative law judge. The paperwork also noted that material issues of fact are in dispute between both sides about whether Kieffer was subjected to continuing sexual harassment at work and whether or not she was terminated because of the sexual harassment.

Attorney Heather A. Giambra, representing the Bradford and the workers named in the complaint, refused to comment on the case this week. When news first broke of the complaint last December, Giambra had indicated, along with Hoffman, that the complaint lacked merit. Giambra told The News at the time that her side was confident the state Division of Human Rights would determine there had been no wrongoing by the employer.

Others involved in the case are remaining tight-lipped. Hoffman, who previously has said there is no truth to Kieffer’s claims, did not return repeated phone calls this week, nor in late June. His office secretary said he is on vacation until Monday. Caparaso did not respond to messages left at his home and work in the last two days. A message left at the Bradford Ale House for both men Wednesday went unanswered.

Other co-workers named in the sexual harassment complaint include Phil Lichtenberger, a dishwasher, and the Kunzmans. Six people were named, including the mayor and his wife. Kieffer said Hoffman was in the bar far more often than his wife and played an active role in managing the establishment, including assigning her schedule and telling her what clothing to wear.


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