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Peter Henner

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Peter's labor law practice stems from his long commitment and involvement with the labor movement. Prior to attending law school, he was an organizer and business agent for the then Textile Workers Union of America (which later merged into the Amalgamated Clothing Textile Workers Union, which is now merged into UNITE-HERE).  After law school, he served as the general counsel for AFSCME Council 82, the union that then represented New York State Correction Officers and a variety of Deputy Sheriffs’ Benevolent Associations and Police Benevolent Associations throughout New York State.

Representing Unions

Since opening his own law office in 1984, Peter has worked as an outside counsel for the Public Employees Federation, New York State United Teachers, New York Metro Postal Workers Union, Bricklayers Local 2, Local 355 of the United Service Workers, Local 175 of the United Plant and Production Workers, the United Union Employees of New York (a staff union of CSEA employees), the Iron Workers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, several county Deputy Sheriffs Benevolent Associations, the New York State Correction Officers and Police Benevolent Association, as well as his former employer, Council 82.

Peter’s labor law practice is noteworthy for his efforts to devise out of the box creative solutions to problems facing both individual employees and labor unions. He presented a program on creative organizing strategies at the Bricklayers International Union Conference in 2008. For labor unions, he has been especially active in devising environmental litigation and in fostering alliances and working relationships with environmental groups.

Peter assisted the New York Metro Postal Workers Union in a lawsuit challenging the Postal Service’s continuing refusal to perform a full cleanup of the main Morgan mail processing facility in Manhattan, after the facility was contaminated by letters containing anthrax in the Fall of 2001.  The actions of the Postal Service were challenged in a citizen suit under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act. 

In 2003, Peter filed a Notice of Intent to Sue under the Clean Water Act on behalf of Bricklayers Local 2 against the developer of a Wal-Mart store.  This notice prompted the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to impose a $70,000 penalty on the developer.

Peter has also brought a lawsuit on behalf of the Public Employees Federation, a labor union representing 50,000 professional New York State employees, challenging the relocation of the headquarters of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, on the grounds that the City of Albany failed to perform a full review of the prospective environmental impacts of the relocation.

Peter has also utilized other federal statutes to provide creative solutions for labor unions.  For example, in 2000, he filed a Qui Tam Lawsuit under the Federal False Claims Act, challenging the use of federal funds by a federally funded "Private Industry Council" to fight union organizing, and obtained a substantial settlement.  

Representing Individual Employees

In addition to handling miscellaneous matters for labor unions, Peter has handled many cases involving the rights of individual workers.  He has brought constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and cases under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Employees Retirement Income Security Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and miscellaneous other laws, to vindicate employee claims.  

Peter represented Lieutenant Grace Pruitt, the highest ranking female police officer in the City of Utica, in a discrimination suit.  Lieut. Pruitt commanded the Criminal Investigation Division for three years and was first on the civil service list for Captain.  Nevertheless, the City of Utica appointed a less senior male as Captain of the Division, and asked Lieut. Pruitt to train him to be her supervisor.  The case was aggressively litigated, and the litigation efforts were supported by a public relations campaign, including mass leafletting.  The case was settled in early 2011.  Lieut. Pruitt later received the Kharas Award for Distinguished Service in Civil Liberties from the Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

In August 2007, Peter won a $180,000 settlement on the eve of trial, on behalf of the former Rensselaer County Director of Real Property Services, who had been terminated after criticizing the former Rensselaer County Executive.  The lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2003, survived two motions for Summary Judgment; one before and one after the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Garcetti v. Ceballos sharply limited claims of First Amendment retaliation. 

In 1985, Peter won a nine-day trial in New York State Supreme Court, when the jury found that Peter's client had been fired in bad faith by the New York State Department of Education for reporting alleged criminal wrongdoing to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

From 1996 through 1998, Peter represented a Ph.D. engineer employed by the Watervliet Arsenal before the Merit Systems Protection Board and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, in an effort to demonstrate that his layoff was in retaliation for his successful efforts to convince the Army to cancel a wasteful weapons project.

Peter has brought a number of actions under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  He was able to win settlements in sexual harassment suits against the New York State Department of Labor and the United States Postal Service.  In addition, Peter has represented many employees in disciplinary arbitration proceedings, including the successful defense of a state employee who, according to the local news media, had been videotaped having sexual relations on a desktop while working. In 1981, as the General Counsel for a union representing state correction officers, he was the first lawyer to successfully defend an employee accused of sexual harassment, in a case where the victim was a close friend and confidant of Donna Payant: the first female correction officer killed in the line of duty.

Peter has also defended individual employees who have been sued for discrimination, including the Director of Apprenticeship Training for the New York State Department of Labor.  Peter successfully defended an affirmative action officer for the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, and has extensive experience defending Correction Officers in inmate assault cases.

Although labor lawyers are traditionally known for their litigation efforts, Peter has also attempted to devise creative and practical solutions for individual employees, including public employees who are protected by civil service laws.  Recognizing that much employment litigation is protracted, expensive, and frequently counterproductive for employees who must continue to work in a hostile environment during the litigation, he attempts to address problems without recourse to litigation whenever possible.

In 1991, Peter was retained by five police officers in the Village of Herkimer, who were being victimized by a corrupt Police Benevolent Association that was dominating the community.  Police union dues were set at $25 per week, overtime and favored assignments were given to cronies of the PBA president, and dissidents, including Peter's clients, faced threats of physical injury. Despite his clients' limited financial resources, Peter was able to organize a campaign comprised of inexpensive administrative proceedings, Freedom of Information Law requests, involvement of local state and federal agencies, and adverse publicity. As a result of this campaign, the narcotics officer for the Village was convicted of federal charges, the PBA President was indicted for theft of union funds, and the 37 year old police chief resigned immediately after the indictment "for reasons of health".  The incumbent mayor was denied renomination by the local Republican Party, and subsequently came in third in a three-way race for reelection. Subsequently, three of Peter's clients, who had faced legal, political and physical persecution, became the President of the PBA, Police Chief, and Police Captain.

© 2011 Law office of Peter Henner