LOCKPORT – Melissa I. Junke, the former City of Lockport youth and recreation director, testified Monday that former Mayor Michael W. Tucker repeatedly sent her text messages in June 2013, asking her to send him a nude photo of herself.
This followed what she said was several years of sexual harassment by Tucker, who resigned as mayor on Feb. 21, 2014.
Reached by telephone Monday, Tucker said, “I deny all those accusations. I’ve never had any kind of complaint filed against me.”
Junke testified, “He asked me to send him a naked photo. After (saying) ‘no’ multiple times, I just stopped answering.” Screenshots of the alleged texts were entered into evidence.
Junke testified that Tucker resigned the day after her then-attorney, George V.C. Muscato, presented a draft of a complaint about the harassment to the city’s lawyer, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano.
Monday was the first day of a hearing before a judge for the state Division of Human Rights on Junke’s claim that she was fired in retaliation for that complaint.
An attorney for the city, Ryan G. Smith of the Webster Szanyi law firm, argued that Junke lost her job because of the city’s financial crisis. Smith said the city was considering abolishing Junke’s job months before she made her complaint.
Junke, now 35, accused Tucker of harassing her for years after he hired her as youth director in late 2005. She said Tucker had sent her texts and “asked me in person to flash him, expose my breasts.”
Weeping, Junke testified, “I had arguments with him. I tried to be stern. I tried to be funny. I tried to be mean. Eventually, I just ignored it, because it was easier.”
Junke also said she was helping to conceal an affair Tucker allegedly was having with another female city employee. The document Muscato gave to Ottaviano said that started in 2009, with Junke driving the other woman to a remote location in Orleans County, where Tucker would pick up the woman.
Junke said she had “a big argument” with Tucker in the summer of 2011. “During the time he was mad at me, it would be almost impossible to get work done or documents signed,” she said. Junke said she resorted to giving documents to the woman Tucker was having an affair with, in order to have them signed.
“His personality was very explosive,” Junke said.
“I deny all that nonsense,” Tucker said. “I’ve been pretty quiet throughout all this. I’ve got a lot to say, but I’m not going to say it now.”
“This case boils down to one point: an employee has the right to complain about discrimination without retaliation,” said Lindy Korn, Junke’s attorney.
Smith told Administrative Law Judge Martin Erazo Jr. that the city cut or left vacant 27 positions in 2013-14 because of the financial crisis.
He said the city needed to take further action after a state comptroller’s report in the spring of 2014 warned that unless something was done, the city would run out of cash by September 2014. Smith said, “Ms. Junke’s was one of the positions that was considered non-essential.”
Korn said that her client, who earned about $54,000 a year, was the only employee terminated in June 2014. But Smith said he has “indisputable documentary evidence” that the Council considered abolishing Junke’s job the previous fall. Court filings in the case refer to emails from then-Alderwoman Anne E. McCaffrey, who succeeded Tucker as mayor, asking her Council colleagues to cut the youth and recreation director post.
The city’s summer parks programs have been administered since 2014 by part-timers; Junke has not been replaced.
Dr. Eileen Trigoboff of Williamsville, a psychotherapist who has been treating Junke since April of this year, testified that she diagnosed Junke with post-traumatic stress disorder based on her ouster. She said Junke was anxious and depressed. Smith introduced a November 2007 medical report from Lockport Memorial Hospital, which said Junke told a hospital staffer that she had suffered from depression when she was in college, and in 2007 was taking Zoloft, a prescription antidepressant.
At the time of her ouster, Junke was off work on workers’ compensation because she hurt her back, hip and neck when she slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk outside her Altro Park office on Jan. 6, 2014.