STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Vincent Gentile, who represents Brooklyn on the New York City Council, and his one-time chief of staff, John Mancuso, are being sued by a former employee for $10 million, alleging they subjected him to “degrading and humiliating discrimination” because he has Asperger’s syndrome.

Michael Bistreich worked for Gentile beginning in February 2014 and quit in June 2016 after being subjected to “deplorable and unlawful conduct,” according to a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court this week.

Bistreich’s hands shake and his head twitches as a result of his Asperger’s syndrome and he was humiliated by both Gentile and Mancuso, as well as other staff, while working as legislative director and budget director for Gentile’s council office, the suit alleges.

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The suit states Bistreich emotionally values objects, returning one day to his desk to find mutilated stuffed animals — decapitated Teddy bears, a stuffed animal dog gutted and impaled with red coloring around its stomach, mouth and eyes to resemble blood. It was so distressing to Bistreich that he closed himself in a conference room for an hour, the suit states.

It alleges Bistreich was told that Mancuso had organized the display and had a second one in the basement, but ordered it taken down after Bistreich’s reaction.

In another incident, according to the suit, Mancuso asked Bistreich to retrieve something from the basement. While he was down there, he was locked in “for an extended period of time.”

Another alleged humiliating incident occurred during a press conference about “Avonte’s Law” named after a young boy with autism who left school through an unlocked door and was later found dead. An unnamed former Gentile staffer suggested Bistreich “test the doors” to which Gentile responded by laughing and clapping his hands, the suit states.

According to the suit, Gentile was insensitive to Bistreich’s disorder, telling him, “We know your condition, but when you twitch like that, it’s unnerving to people.” The suit alleges that the councilman asked Bistreich, “Can you look into upping your medication?” even though there is no such medication for Asperger’s. Gentile raised the question two more times, the suit states.

Bistreich said Gentile once responded to his lack of eye contact and head twitches during a meeting, saying, “You annoy me.”

Bistreich was hired in February 2014 and was given a $6,000 raise in May 2016 after taking on more responsibility and asking for a raise for months, even though less senior staff members had been given raises before him, according to the allegations.

In June 2016, his raise was rescinded and he was stripped of the legislative director title.

According to the suit, Gentile said the pay cut and demotion was for an unapproved vacation that Bistreich took beginning June 6, 2016, even though Gentile approved the vacation days in January 2016.

The suit alleges that Gentile wanted to get rid of Bistreich because he no longer tolerated his disability in light of his increasing responsibilities and visibility.

The demotion and pay cut were made more humiliating by Bistreich being required to help the new part-time legislative director who took his job. He quit June 15, 2016.

Gentile issued a statement through a spokesman — “I take this matter very seriously and will review the complaint with legal counsel.”

Mancuso declined to comment.

© 2016 Staten Island Advance
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