Ex-Queens Library CEO sues system for severance pay

By Madina Toure

Former Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante is seeking more than $2 million in severance compensation to “set the record straight” after he was ousted from his position in December 2014.

He contends the library fired him without a valid cause.

Galante filed the lawsuit against the Queens Borough Public Library and trustees Haeda Mihaltses and Judith Bergtraum in Brooklyn federal court Monday, his lawyer, Tom Rohback, a partner at Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider, said.

According to the suit, the library had the right to terminate Galante’s employment, but it was contractually required to pay him severance of more than $2 million unless it was terminating him “for cause.”

The lawsuit maintains the library falsely claimed to terminate Galante for a legitimate reason to avoid paying the severance.

In a statement, Galante said the library has been “overrun with a political gang.”

“After giving 27 years of my life to the Queens Library and raising millions of dollars to make it better, the political winds changed overnight and my name was dragged through the mud,” he said. “I’m filing this lawsuit to set the record straight.”

The Queens Library’s board of trustees denied Galante’s accusations.

“After reviewing the complaint brought by Mr. Galante, we believe his claims are without merit and our actions to remove him were completely justified,” the current board said in a statement.

In September, Galante was placed on indefinite leave as he was being investigated by the FBI, federal prosecutors and the city Department of Investigation for allegedly misusing funds.

An audit by City Comptroller Scott Stringer uncovered expensive furniture and lavish meals, among other inappropriate purchases, in his expense accounts.

As a sign of Galante’s competence, Rohback pointed out the board of directors would unanimously renew Galante’s contract on a regular basis and vote on and approve his compensation which was verified by outside consultants.

The lawsuit accuses Borough President Melinda Katz of orchestrating the passage of a bill introduced by state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and state Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona) to give her and the mayor the authority to remove the trustees since she could not convince a majority of the board to vote in favor of placing Galante on leave.

The suit also cites extensive Daily News coverage of his performance at the library and claims Mihaltses and Bergtraum disclosed confidential information to the press and other third parties.

“They didn’t identify what the cause was, what he did wrong,” Rohback said. “Instead, Melinda Katz wanted him placed on leave in April. They refused. In September—with her new board in having replaced those trustees—they removed him but not for cause.”

The lawyer also criticized Stringer’s audit, noting that the extravagant dinners were attended by board members after meetings as well as representatives from the offices of the former borough president and the comptroller.

Sharon Lee, a spokeswoman for Katz, touted the library’s accomplishments since his departure, such as breaking ground on new libraries and six-day library service.

“In the past year since his termination, the reformed board of trustees has worked very hard to repair the reputational harm caused by the former CEO’s actions and to restore faith in the management of the world-class Queens Library system,” Lee said in a statement.

Eric Sumberg, a spokesman for Stringer, backed the audit’s findings. “Our audit and investigation revealed stomach-turning layers of waste and abuse that have no place in a publicly funded institution,” Sumberg said in a statement.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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