LOCKPORT – A Niagara County assistant district attorney who prosecutes sex crimes is expected to file a federal case shortly, contending that she is underpaid because she’s a woman.
Andrew P. Fleming, attorney for prosecutor Elizabeth R. Donatello, said Thursday he expects to file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by the end of the month about the fact that Donatello is making almost $30,000 less than her fellow prosecutor of sex crimes, Robert A. Zucco.
“It’s not like I’m going to take them for millions of dollars,” Donatello said in an interview with The Buffalo News. “I just want to be paid the same amount as the male colleague who does the same work I do.”
Zucco, 61, a widowed father of two young children, reportedly has been working less than full-time hours, although collecting his full salary of $97,515 a year. Donatello, 43, who is married with no children, earns $68,253.
Donatello said that when she complained to District Attorney Michael J. Violante, “a very common exchange was, ‘I don’t want to fire him because he’s got kids to take care of, and you don’t really need the job. You’ve got Pete [Vito, her husband] to take care of you.’ ”
Donatello said Zucco was handling only Niagara Falls sexual-abuse cases, while she was handling all cases in the rest of the county as well as all child pornography and computer-related cases, regardless of location, and all sex-related probation violations. She said that recently, North Tonawanda cases were moved to Zucco’s portfolio.
Donatello said Violante fired her March 6 because of her complaints about the disparity in caseloads. She said she was reinstated March 11 and told to stop complaining, and she said she was told by the county Human Relations Department that her pay and schedule issues would be addressed.
“Four months went by with no follow-up,” Donatello said. That’s when she hired Fleming, who sent a letter to County Attorney Claude A. Joerg on July 2, outlining the complaints and demanding a settlement.
Joerg said the reason for the pay disparity is that Zucco has far more experience with the county – he joined the DA’s Office in 1992, while Donatello was hired in 2004 – and that the county has had a pay freeze since the beginning of 2012, stranding Donatello two pay grades below Zucco on the salary scale.
“I don’t think it’s fair to blame Rob [Zucco]. He can’t control what he’s paid,” Donatello said. “The county has allowed a very unequal situation to occur for years.”
Fleming said the EEOC can’t compel the county to do anything, but it does issue “right to sue letters” which act as a ticket to U.S. District Court, which is where the case is likely headed.
Joerg said he briefed legislators in closed session Aug. 6. “Based upon direction, I don’t think we’re going to be offering any settlement,” Joerg said.
Fleming said his initial demand was for the county to make up three years’ worth of the pay difference, give Donatello a permanent raise and cover her legal fees. “The demand wouldn’t have cost the county $100,000,” Fleming said.
Through a secretary, Violante declined to be interviewed.