Rejecting Tequesta’s claims that a dispatcher couldn’t sue it for retaliation because its police chief groped her at a private party, an appeals court on Wednesday nevertheless threw out a $400,000 verdict against the village for technical reasons.
In a 16-page opinion, the 4th District Court of Appeal said dispatcher Tara Luscavich could sue the village on the basis of former Police Chief Gerald Pitocchelli’s behavior at a 2011 party to celebrate a colleague’s promotion.
“The employee clearly opposed the chief’s physical advances … by saying that she thought it was wrong to engage in sex with him and by exiting the room immediately after the chief grabbed her hand and put it on his (pants),” wrote Judge Burton Conner in an opinion that was joined by two other judges.
However, he wrote, a new trial must be held because of a new, tougher standard the West Palm Beach-based court has embraced in employment retaliation cases.
In the past, it would have been sufficient for the jury to find that Luscavich was denied promotions after she spurned Pitocchelli’s advances. However, as a result of a ruling last year, it now requires a jury to find that the two were inextricably related. In the ruling, it said it adopted the stricter standard to comply with a 2013 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Attorney Isidro Garcia, who represents Luscavich, said other state appeals courts haven’t adopted the tougher standard. For that reason, he said he may appeal the ruling to the Florida Supreme Court. But, he added, “I’m perfectly happy to retry the case.” While he asked the jury in 2016 to award Luscavich $105,000, it awarded her nearly four times the amount - primarily for pain and suffering.
Pitocchelli resigned in 2012 after spending a year as chief but was rehired as a lieutenant, Garcia said. He resigned again in 2014.
Last year, the 60-year-old former Delray Beach cop, was charged with domestic battery in connection with an argument with his wife. State prosecutors dropped the charges. A judge ordered him to take anger management classes and abstain from alcohol.