Updated Nov. 3, 12:38 p.m.
Nearly a year after being ousted, former Queens Library President and CEO Thomas W. Galante filed a lawsuit against his former employer, claiming he was fired without just cause.
Galante was dismissed from the Queens Borough Public Library last December amid allegations that he wrongfully spent library funds on personal expenses, including a six-figure renovation of his Jamaica office, at a time when the library reduced its staffing and services due to funding cuts.
The allegations dogged Galante throughout 2014, a year when Queens Library underwent tremendous upheaval as a result of the situation. Amid calls to remove Galante, the Queens Library board of trustees deadlocked on a resolution in April to put him on indefinite leave, prompting local lawmakers to draft legislation allowing the Queens borough president and mayor — the two officials responsible for appointing trustees — the authority to remove trustees from office.
Soon after the state legislature passed the reform legislation, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz removed eight Queens Library trustees who voted not to suspend Galante and filled the vacancies with new appointees. The reconstituted board then suspended Galante in September before firing him in December.
Tom Rohback, a partner at Axinn Veltrop & Harkrider representing Galante, maintains that the trustees’ decision to terminate Galante was a matter of politics rather than any wrongdoing on the former president’s part.
“If you look at the background here, you have Tom Galante, who worked at Queens Library for the last 20 years, somebody who, by all accounts, did a remarkable job,” Rohback said. “Then in January 2014, Katz and [City Comptroller Scott] Stringer come into office, the Daily News starts these attack articles” alleging misconduct on Galante’s part, “and by April, Katz is calling for his resignation.”
Though published reports claimed that Galante’s annual salary of nearly $400,000 was excessive, Rohback contends, the former president’s compensation was comparable to that of leaders of other nonprofit organizations around the nation.
The lawsuit is also critical of Stringer’s audit of the Queens Borough Public Library, which claimed Galante and other ranking library officials spent lavishly while the system was mired in debt and forced to deal with reduced funding. According to Galante’s attorney, the expenses were for “fundraising activities” and business/award dinners that representatives of the comptroller, mayor and borough president attended.
“These were dinners attended by the board of trustees after board meetings,” Rohback added. “It’s not something that should shock the conscience.”
Stringer’s report pointed out that Galante used the library’s credit card to make multiple fuel purchases on the same day, but Rohback maintained that the funds were used to buy gasoline for generators powering libraries in the storm-stricken Rockaways following Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.
Galante is seeking damages in an amount to be proven at trial should he win, as well as compensation for legal fees, including for costs associated with his defense against investigations launched by the U.S. Attorney’s office and the city’s Department of Investigation.
“This is somebody that has been attacked and vilified and hasn’t been able to fight back and defend himself,” Rohback said. “He’s going to defend himself now.”
The Courier reached out to the Queens Library for comment; the board of trustees in a statement defended its decision to remove Galante from his post.
“After reviewing the complaint brought by Mr. Galante, we believe his claims are without merit and our actions to remove him were completely justified,” according to the board’s statement.