PNC ordered to pay $2.4M to former employee in sexual harassment case
A jury ordered PNC Bank to pay a former employee $2.4 million in damages for allegedly failing to take effective action to protect her and other employees from a client’s alleged sexual harassment and misconduct.
Former wealth manager Damara Scott said she was leaving the bank lobby in October 2013 when the customer, Patrick Pignatello, allegedly followed her and made lewd sexual comments, according to her lawsuit which was filed in a New Jersey state court. After approaching her, Pignatello allegedly grabbed Scott and pressed himself against her without her consent, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit claims bank management knew Pignatello, a resident of Glen Ridge, New Jersey, had a history of harassment but allowed him to continue doing business at the branch because it feared losing potential customers due to his perceived standing in the community.
“PNC did not want to terminate his account because he was ‘Mr. Glen Ridge’ and could certainly bring more customers into the bank,” says Randy Davenport, Scott’s attorney. “They failed to act because they feared the possibility of the harm he could do to the branch.”
“The jury recognized that PNC had failed to provide a safe workplace for Ms. Scott,” says Nancy Erka Smith, another attorney representing Scott, in a statement. “We hope PNC will now take the steps to eliminate harassment throughout the company.”
PNC claimed Pignatello’s behavior appeared to be innocent in a preliminary statement and that it was not liable for “unforeseeable, one-time conduct of a customer … which conduct did not occur in the workplace and which was entirely outside of PNC's control,” according to court documents.
The bank “does not condone harassment of any kind,” PNC spokesman Jason Beyersdorfer said in a statement, adding that current and former branch employees testified that they received sexual harassment training and did not view Pignatello as a threat.
“We intend to appeal based on errors made by the court,” Beyersdorfer says.
Legal representation for PNC Bank, Ronan Tuzzio & Giannone, did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawsuit claims Pignatello had a pattern of alleged harassment. In one incident, he purportedly put his hands around the body of a female mortgage representative and rested his head on her breasts, according to the lawsuit.
Pignatello, 77, died in December 2013 from an apparent heart attack while shoveling snow, according to online documents including an article on NJ.com and an obituary. He was given the title "Mr. Glen Ridge" by a unanimous Glen Ridge council vote in 2009, according to NJ.com.
The verdict was delivered by an eight-person jury, which told the bank to pay $1.6 million in past and future distress as well as $800,000 in past and future lost wages, according to court documents.
Scott was registered with PNC Investments as a broker from 2005 to 2010, per FINRA BrokerCheck records.
“PNC failed to protect employees from a person who had been known to sexually harass women. The branch continued to let him come into the bank and the jury found that that was problematic,” says Davenport, Scott’s attorney.