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PNC Accused Of Hiding Video Before Trial Over Sex Assault

By Bill Wichert

Law360 (February 26, 2020, 7:43 PM EST) — A former PNC Bank employee accused the financial institution Wednesday of hiding surveillance videos before split New Jersey state jury verdicts this month in her suit against the company over being attacked by a customer, saying the bank later provided footage that skipped the moment when the purported assault occurred.

After winning $2.4 million in compensatory damages but losing her bid for punitive damages, former PNC Bank wealth manager Damara Scott pointed to that evidence in seeking a new punitives trial, arguing that the bank acted with “malice and evil-mindedness” in concealing the material over several years, from the initial police investigation to the civil trial.

“It obstructed a criminal investigation into a crime against one of its long-term employees. It obstructed discovery of her sexual harassment lawsuit. It lied to the jury and the court,” according to Scott’s brief on her motion for a new trial.

The trial included evidence of “grainy” video from a distant camera at a nearby Panera restaurant — which PNC Bank had claimed was the only footage of the alleged attack — but the newly released surveillance videos are “much clearer and closer,” the brief states.

Those videos from inside and outside a PNC Bank branch in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, show since-deceased customer Patrick Pignatello following Scott on Oct. 20, 2013 as she was leaving the branch, according to Scott’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith of Smith Mullin PC.

But footage provided by the bank of Pignatello and Scott outside the branch has a gap of the five seconds when the assault took place, as the Panera video shows, Smith said.

“It’s missing the five seconds that he’s literally on top of her,” Smith said.

PNC Bank spokeswoman Marcey Zwiebel told Law360 on Wednesday in a statement, “plaintiff’s motion for a new trial is legally and factually incorrect. PNC did not deliberately hide the video from plaintiff. Indeed, the video actually supports PNC’s defense at trial.”

“It is also not true that the video was altered to omit an assault. The video reflects all activity involving plaintiff and the customer,” Zwiebel added. “PNC intends to vigorously oppose plaintiff’s motion.”

Scott has alleged PNC Bank failed to protect her from Pignatello despite his history of sexually harassing female employees and customers at the branch.

At the time of the purported assault, Pignatello followed Scott and said, “I offer full services and I am willing to please,” court documents state. He then allegedly grabbed Scott and grinded his penis against her buttocks before she ultimately pulled away from him and drove off in her car, court documents state.

Scott later reported the attack to PNC Bank’s security and investigations department as well as to the police, court documents state.

Scott — who had never met Pignatello and did not know his purported history at the branch — said in court documents about the alleged incident, “I froze in fear, shock and disgust. I was horrified that he would further attempt to assault me and/or abduct me by throwing me into his vehicle. I was terrified that he was going to rape me.”

When police sought video of the area of the alleged assault, PNC Bank did not provide video from its surveillance cameras but instead directed officers to the landlord of the branch location and a nearby strip mall, according to Scott’s brief on Wednesday. The landlord later provided the Panera video, the brief states.

During discovery in Scott’s lawsuit, she requested all relevant video in the bank’s hands, but it indicated the only one was the Panera video, the brief states.

At the trial, counsel for PNC Bank “repeatedly misled the court and jury by claiming that the Panera video was the ‘only’ video and arguing that plaintiff’s counsel should not be allowed to argue that perhaps the bank had video cameras that recorded the assault,” the brief states. Defense counsel argued at the trial that the Panera video showed Scott was not assaulted, the brief states.

After the verdicts were handed down on Feb. 10, Smith examined photos that PNC Bank had sought to use as trial exhibits but were ultimately not admitted into evidence, court documents state. Those pictures showed cameras inside and outside the Glen Ridge branch, according to the brief.

On Feb. 11, Smith confronted counsel for PNC Bank about the photos and demanded video from the date of the alleged assault, court documents state. A week later, the bank produced the surveillance videos, according to the brief.

The missing five seconds of video shows how “PNC continues to fraudulently conceal evidence,” according to the brief.

In seeking a new punitives trial, Scott noted in her brief that “a critical element of the punitive damages charge concerned whether PNC concealed evidence of its wrongdoing.”

“If PNC had revealed the existence of its video before punitive damages closing arguments, plaintiff could have used it to prove that PNC had concealed material evidence and the jury would have found punitive damages liability,” the brief states.

Scott is represented by Nancy Erika Smith and Neil Mullin of Smith Mullin PC and Randy P. Davenport of the Law Office of Randy P. Davenport.

PNC Bank is represented by David S. Osterman and Karen Saab-Dominguez of Goldberg Segalla LLP.

The case is Damara Scott v. Patrick Pignatello et al., case number L-7276-15, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, County of Essex.

–Editing by John Campbell.