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PNC Hit With $2.4M Verdict Over Customer Attack On Worker

By Bill Wichert

Law360 (February 11, 2020, 2:36 PM EST) — PNC Bank has been hit with $2.4 million in compensatory damages at a New Jersey state trial over claims the financial institution failed to protect a former employee from a male customer who sexually harassed female staffers and customers for years before ultimately assaulting her.

An Essex County jury handed down the verdict Monday in favor of former PNC Bank wealth manager Damara Scott with respect to the purported misconduct of since-deceased customer Patrick Pignatello, according to Scott’s attorney, Nancy Erika Smith of Smith Mullin PC.

With their decision, jurors said an employer “can’t turn a blind eye to sexual harassment of its employees, no matter who’s doing it, no matter how much money they may provide, whether they’re customers who you make a lot of money off or not, that women are entitled to live, to work in safe environments,” Smith told Law360 on Tuesday.

“I think the jury is saying, ‘No, the employer does have to provide women with a safe workplace,'” Smith added. “This is one of the reasons it’s such an intractable problem, that we don’t seem to be able to rid the workplace of sexual harassment if employers don’t take it seriously.”

PNC Bank on Tuesday vowed to appeal the verdict and noted that the jury declined to award punitive damages to Scott.

“PNC does not condone harassment of any kind. We have a long-standing history of providing a safe workplace for our employees, and robust policies and procedures to help ensure that we continue to do so. We are disappointed by the verdict, even though the jury expressly found that this was not a case where punitive damages were appropriate. We intend to appeal based on errors made by the court,” a PNC Bank spokesperson said in a statement.

The case dealt with Pignatello’s alleged history of sexually harassing female employees and customers at a PNC Bank branch in Glen Ridge, New Jersey.

Among his inappropriate remarks, Pignatello allegedly asked the employees, “Are you going to service me today?,” according to Scott’s attorneys. In one alleged incident, when he met a mortgage broker, Pignatello hugged her and placed his head on her breasts, the attorneys said. On numerous occasions, the branch manager asked him to leave due to his behavior.

Branch employees did not file complaints about Pignatello, showing that “they didn’t feel safe doing so, they didn’t feel like anybody would do anything,” according to Smith. There was no evidence that PNC Bank provided training to employees on how to deal with customers like Pignatello, Smith said.

“They all went out of their way to let him get away with it, probably because they viewed him as a prominent person and a source of business,” said Smith, referring to PNC Bank in general.

Pignatello’s purported attack on Scott occurred on Oct. 20, 2013, as she was leaving the branch, court documents state. He allegedly followed her and said, “I offer full services and I am willing to please.”

Pignatello then allegedly grabbed Scott and grinded his penis against her buttocks. Scott ultimately pulled away from him and drove off in her car, 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.”

Scott later reported the attack to PNC Bank’s security and investigations department as well as to the police, court documents state. Following his subsequent arrest, Pignatello returned to the branch, looking for Scott, according to Smith.

“Even then, knowing that he was coming back to look for her, they did not close his accounts or even send him a letter saying, ‘Stay away from the bank.’ Nothing,” Smith said of PNC Bank.

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 Jack Karp.

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