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Law clerk suing judge who fired her

Plaintiff planned to foster infant

By: Bennett Loudon//May 31, 2023

Law clerk suing judge who fired her

Plaintiff planned to foster infant

By: Bennett Loudon//May 31, 2023

A former judge’s law clerk is suing the judge and state officials claiming she was fired because she was planning to become a foster parent.

Plaintiff Jessica B. Serrett, of Geneva, is suing Seneca County Court Judge Barry Porsch, Ronald Pawelczak, district executive for the Seventh Judicial District, and Amy Fields, a human resource representative for the Seventh Judicial District.

“This is an employment discrimination action. Plaintiff was terminated because she sought to care for a foster child,” according to the complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Rochester.

Serrett is represented by Geneva attorney Gregory L. Silverman and Oneida County attorneys A.J. Bosman and Robert Strum.

Before being hired as Porsch’s law clerk in November 2021, Serrett “was a well-respected law clerk primarily working in the Hall of Justice in Monroe County,” according to the complaint.

At first, they had a warm relationship. Porsch “even entrusted her to sit on the bench to hear various cases when he was out sick,” according to the lawsuit.

“Porsch’s benevolence towards plaintiff, however, radically changed after plaintiff disclosed her plans to foster an infant child. Defendant Porsch’s disposition towards plaintiff made it obvious that he disapproved of her plans to foster a child,” according to the complaint.

From November 2021 through mid-January 2022 Serrett “thoroughly enjoyed her work in Seneca County,” according to the lawsuit.

“Porsch’s demeanor radically changed after (Serrett) disclosed her plans to foster an infant child,” according to the suit.

In January 2022, Serrett was notified that she and her husband were selected to foster an infant who would be born in the coming weeks addicted to drugs.

Serrett made plans to get ahead on her work in anticipation of requesting time off when the foster child arrived. Serrett also spoke to Fields about taking intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to care for the foster child.

“Fields incorrectly advised that (Serrett) was only eligible for continuous – not intermittent – leave under the FMLA,” the suit claims.

After Serrett provided a schedule of proposed time off, Porsch informed Pawelczak that he no longer wanted Serrett to work for him, the suit claims.

On Feb. 4, 2022, Serrett was notified that the foster child was ready to be picked up at the hospital. Porsch’s secretary offered to let him know Serrett was leaving for the day.

“Porsch communicated to defendant Pawelczak that he no longer wished to have Plaintiff as his law clerk because she proposed taking time off to care for her foster child,” the suit claims.

Porsch “directed Plaintiff to complete work during the time he knew Plaintiff was picking up the foster child.”

Serrett picked up the child in the afternoon on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. On Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022, Serrett first saw that Porsch had emailed her the previous day during the afternoon after she had left work.

As an elected County Court judge, Porsch also serves as an acting state Supreme Court justice. In the email to Serrett, Porsch wrote that there was a “crisis” with his Supreme Court cases, and “if it is not addressed and turned around very soon, I will be resigning” from Supreme Court work, according to the suit.

Porsch’s email directed Serrett “this afternoon” – the day he had already approved the plaintiff could miss in order to pick up the foster child – to provide a detailed status on all his Supreme Court cases.

“Porsch provided this directive to plaintiff as a pretext to provide a potential basis to justify her pending termination,” the suit claims.

Serrett declined placement of the foster child to save her job, according to the complaint.

On Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, Serrett completed the case status updates, but they were not reviewed by Porsch.

Soon after arriving for work on Feb. 14, 2022, Porsch called Serrett into his office with Pawelczak’s subordinate, deputy district executive Amy Monachino.

Porsch stated that he was asking for her resignation, and if she did not sign an already-drafted resignation letter, she would be terminated, according to the complaint.

“Porsch provided no explanation for this decision,” the suit claims.

Serrett reluctantly signed the resignation letter.

“In shock, plaintiff took her purse, a photo of her husband, and was escorted out by court security.”

After Plaintiff resigned in lieu of termination, she was informed by the New York State Department of Labor that the Seventh Judicial District reported to the Labor Department that Serrett was terminated because she had not received a Covid vaccine.

“Plaintiff had, however, received two doses of the Covid vaccine by February 2021, and had received the official orange badge for fully vaccinated New York state court employees,” the suit claims.

[email protected] / (585) 232-2035

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