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Slaps on the Butt Prompts Suit

New York- An ex-legal assistant at a Lehman Brothers subsidiary is accusing her high-level bosses of sexual harassment that included humiliating remarks and slaps on the butt.

Maria Piccolino, 30, has sued Lehman Brothers, claiming she was fired in March from her $67,000 job at Neuberger Berman as retaliation for complaining about locker-room comments made by the firm’s chief administrative officer, deputy general counsel and a managing director.

Piccolino, who worked for less than a year at Neuberger, also alleges unwanted physical advances by the firm’s director of compliance and by a trader.

Lehman Brothers called the lawsuit “baseless and wholly without merit.”

“Lehman Brothers intends to clear the names of those individuals who have been maligned by these false allegations,” the company said in a statement.

Piccolino alleges that, in one June 2004 incident, Brad Cetron – the compliance director and one of her two bosses – grabbed her during an after-work gathering at a bar and kissed her.

She says Cetron’s office handles sexual-harassment complaints.

In another alleged incident, at a bar outing, Piccolino claims a Lehman trader lifted “her skirt and smacked her buttocks twice.”

“I screamed at him and hit him with my umbrella,” she told The Post.

In the office, Piccolino says, chief administrative officer Kevin Handwerker spotted her bending down to plug in a hair-dryer and said: “Under Avi’s desk again, are we?”

Piccolino says she reported the comment to Avi Mizrachi, a deputy general counsel. She claims Mizrachi replied that Handwerker “was just joking because he thought of her as one of the boys.”

Piccolino also accuses Harold Newman, a managing director, of asking her on the phone if Mizrachi “was still reading that book on the 100 best sex positions.”

Newman told The Post her allegations are “out of the blue.”

“I don’t know who she is. Maybe I spoke to her on the phone,” he said. “I’ve never even heard of that book.”

Piccolino said she never filed a formal harassment complaint with Neuberger, an investment firm that handles almost $90 billion in assets. She said she told Mizrachi “every time something happened” and once asked for – but never received – a transfer.

Piccolino’s lawyer, Daniel Kaiser, said harassing remarks were “encouraged and permitted” in the legal and compliance department where she worked.

“You’re not going to see reform in any corporation unless it comes from the top down,” Kaiser said. “When lawyers themselves are not taking it seriously, who else at the company is going to take it seriously?”

Cetron, Mizrachi and Handwerker could not be reached for comment.

On March 24, Piccolino says the human resources department at Lehman asked for more information on a previous criminal conviction. A week later, she says, she was told she could resign or be fired.

When she was 23, Piccolino said, she had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation for receiving stolen goods – some clothes and a roll of coins – taken from the house where she was working as a nanny.

Piccolino pleaded guilty and got a year’s probation but no jail time. She said she thought the crime was expunged from her record.

She said officials at Lehman – including Mizrachi – asked her about the conviction and decided to hire her, anyway.

A spokeswoman for the National Association of Securities Dealers, which provides financial regulatory services, said the conviction would not disqualify her from working in a non-trading job.

Piccolino’s lawsuit claims her criminal record was a pretext for her firing and seeks unspecified damages.

Piccolino, who now works for the United States Tennis Association, said she generally had liked working at Neuberger and still has close friends there.

“The atmosphere was great,” she said. “But the situation I was put in and the bosses I had were terrible.”

She said she went into Mizrachi’s office screaming one morning after Cetron allegedly cornered a co-worker and demanded to know if he was sleeping with Piccolino.

“Mizrachi responded that [he] had the right to know whether she was having sex with a co-worker,” her lawsuit states.

“That was the breaking point,” Piccolino recalls.

Soon, she said, her workload was “reduced to nothing.”


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