A prominent New Haven property manager sued Yale Monday, one year after the University decided it would no longer pay certain benefits to the employees maintaining some of Yale’s commercial properties.
Schiavone Management Co., which manages 13 buildings on College and Chapel streets, filed a lawsuit against Yale, citing failure by the University to pay living wages and fringe benefits to its employees, as well as financially harassing and discriminating against the company’s president, Craig Schiavone.
Craig Schiavone is the ex-wife of Republican mayoral candidate Joel Schiavone ’58, the real estate developer to whom Yale gave an award in 1998 for revitalizing downtown. Before 1998, Schiavone Management owned and managed the Chapel Street properties, but after a bank failure the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation foreclosed on the property. The University bought the property in February 1998 from the FDIC and signed an 10-year agreement with Schiavone, allowing the company to manage the property.
According to the lawsuit, in January 2000, Yale informed Schiavone Management the University would no longer pay for fringe benefits — including sick, holiday or vacation pay — for Schiavone employees working on the Yale properties. This forced Craig Schiavone to cover the costs out of her own pocket, which the lawsuit charges constituted gender discrimination.
Yale believes it was within its rights to stop paying the benefits, but Schiavone says the decision violates the contract.
Joel Schiavone, an officer of Schiavone Management, spoke Monday about having no other option but to take the matter to court.
“We haven’t heard a response in 16 months,” Schiavone said. “We’ve gotten no explanation. They’ve said on repeated occasions that we’re not competent. I just got fed up. I finally said, ‘You’ve got to stop.'”
In addition, the lawsuit charges that Yale failed to cooperate with Schiavone Management with leasing and construction terms stated in the contract, signed in 1998.
“The defendant Yale acted in an immoral, oppressive, unethical, unscrupulous manner, and caused substantial injury to consumers, competitors and other businessmen,” the lawsuit states.
University spokesman Tom Conroy vehemently disputed the charges.
“The University believes that the lawsuit is completely without merit,” Conroy said. “The University will vigorously defend itself against the suit, if that’s required.”
The lawsuit seeks over $15,000, the highest bracket under Connecticut law, but Schiavone said his suit is not about money.
“You don’t do it for that reason,” Schiavone said. “You do it because you’re a caged rat. We were backed into a corner until we finally turned around and said enough.”
Yale General Counsel Dorothy K. Robinson said the University is still reviewing the lawsuit.
“We are disappointed that Schiavone Management chose to bring the suit at this time,” Robinson wrote in an e-mail to the Yale Daily News. “University Properties had been trying hard to work with them on the properties.”
Schiavone specifically criticized Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president for New Haven and state affairs, and John Maturo, director of University Properties. Alexander could not be reached, and Maturo declined comment.
According to Conroy, Schiavone Management had approached Yale about a new agreement, but when denied, decided to file a lawsuit.
“The plaintiff had been seeking a new agreement with Yale to replace it’s current agreement,” Conroy said. “Yale was not interested in a new agreement. That is apparently what prompted the lawsuit.”
While Schiavone Management is prepared to go to court, Schiavone said the ideal location for settling the matter would be at the negotiating table.
“The best outcome would be that they send in someone to negotiate these issues,” Schiavone said. “We just want to get paid and restore our duties under contract.”
But the University is prepared to fight the battle all the way.
“If we have to defend it in court, we’ll defend it in court,” Conroy said.
Schiavone said Schiavone Management would be willing to settle the matter for a “fair price.”
Schiavone Management still holds contractual rights to the properties for eight-and-a half more years, an agreement that will not be affected by the lawsuit, Conroy said.