City Councilman Vincent Gentile allegedly mocked, tormented and humiliated an aide with Asperger syndrome, according to a $10 million lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court this week.
In the suit, 28-year-old Michael Bistreich, a former legislative aide with the Bay Ridge councilman, says he was "subjected to degrading and humiliating discrimination because he is autistic." In one incident, he claims Gentile laughed at him when another staffer compared him with autistic student Avonte Oquendo, who tragically died after disappearing from his Long Island City school in 2013. Per the suit, the staffer suggested Bistreich "test the doors," since Oquendo escaped through an open door; Gentile allegedly "responded by laughing and clapping his hands," which upset Bistreich.
Bistreich also says Gentile complained about his shaking hands and twitching, both of which are symptoms of his condition. "We know your condition, but when you twitch like that it’s unnerving to people,” Gentile allegedly told Bistreich. “Can you look into upping your medication?”
More disturbingly, Bistreich says Gentile's former chief of staff John Mancuso once locked him in the office basement after asking him to get something out of it, "which caused significant distress to Bistreich."
And Bistreich, who used stuffed animals and teddy bears to help him manage his Asperger's, once “found mutilated stuffed animals at his desk, including teddy bears that were decapitated with one head mounted on a small flagpole, and a stuffed animal dog that was gutted and impaled and had red coloring around its slit stomach, mouth and eyes to resemble blood," according to the suit.
"I put my heart and soul into working there and doing my best on everything and it didn’t matter," Bistreich told the Daily News. "The only thing that mattered was what they felt about me for being different." His attorney, Brian Heller, told the tabloid his client "wasn’t evaluated based on his abilities — but just based on the fact that he had this disability." When reached for comment, Heller told Gothamist, "It's disgraceful that someone who's elected by the people to represent the people would treat one of their constituents, and one of their employees, in such a degrading fashion."
Gentile, who has been a councilman for 13 years, is reaching the end of his term limit at the end of 2017. Last month he was reportedly considering a run for the Brooklyn district attorney seat left empty by the late Kenneth Thompson, who died of cancer in October.
The councilman's office has not yet responded to request for comment.