WEST PALM BEACH — The 4th District Court of Appeal has reversed a more than $400,000 award and remanded a case in which a former Tequesta dispatcher alleged that the local police chief groped her at a private party.
Even as the court rejected the village’s argument that it could not be sued under such circumstances, it nevertheless threw out the verdict on technical grounds and remanded the proceedings back to trial in a mixed-verdict ruling in which the lower court was also found to have erred in instructing the jury on causation.
Tara Luscavich’s claims against former police chief Gerald Pitocchelli date to 2011, when she alleges she was victimized at a party celebrating a colleague’s promotion.
Besides posing the question of “can an employee’s rejection of one-event sexual advances by a supervisor at a non-work sponsored party meet certain necessary elements of a claim for retaliation” as the basis for an appeal, the village also pointed to purported errors by the trial court including denial of its motion for directed verdict and denying its requested jury instructions and verdict form and giving erroneous instructions as grounds for appeal, according to the appeals court's decision.
While Judge Burton Connor wrote that “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),” the court found that a new trial was warranted in deference to West Palm Beach’s new, tougher standards related to such issues.
In her suit against the town, Luscavich alleged civil rights violations in the form of the hostile work environment she was subjected to and that she was regularly denied promotions as retaliation.
Luscavich’s attorney Isidro Garcia also claimed that other state appeals courts have yet to adopt the tougher standards and indicated he may be willing to taking his case all the way to the Florida Supreme Court if need be.
According to the Palm Beach Post, Pitocchelli resigned from the department in 2012 but later returned as a lieutenant before retiring for good in 2014.
Since his retirement, The Post reported he was charged last year with domestic battery in connection with an argument with his wife. The charges were ultimately dropped by the state, but a judge ordered him to take anger-management classes.