SYRACUSE — After nearly four years out of work following being fired over false charges, CSEA member Gigi Potocki is finally back at the job she loves, advocating on behalf of crime victims, thanks to our union.

Equally important to Potocki is that our union’s protection not only helped her gain justice, but restored her reputation.

“What I appreciate the most is that CSEA gave me back my reputation and good name,” she said. “It stunk that I was broke and out of work, but the fact that people thought I did something wrong was very hard to deal with. Today, I’m back to work doing what I love and I don’t even want to think about where I’d be without my union.”

As a victim assistance coordinator in the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Office, Potocki’s work connects crime victims and their family members with needed services.

Her troubles began in 2012 after she helped a domestic violence victim, whose abuser happened to be the son of a chief investigator in her office.

Before that, Potocki was a model employee who successfully completed her probation and never had any issues. What followed was several years of harassment, threats and false accusations.

“Clearly, this was just him coming after me,” she said.

Things escalated right before Christmas 2012, when she was suspended without pay for three days for supposedly accessing police records without authorization, which she had been given.

Because the county failed to correctly follow the contract’s disciplinary procedure, our union eventually got the wages restored, but the harassment campaign against her continued.

In July 2014, county officials served her with a termination notice over an alleged breach of confidentiality, along with various other charges, most of which were carried over from the previous suspension.

CSEA Labor Relations Specialist Terri Hoffman helped Potocki file a grievance. Meanwhile, Potocki’s arbitration eventually ended up in the hands of CSEA Senior Associate Counsel Steven Klein.

Over eight different arbitration hearings in 2015, Klein argued that because of the legal concept of “double jeopardy,” Potocki couldn’t be punished again for her previous charges and that the county didn’t prove its new charges.

Potocki also provided damning evidence in her favor — a recorded conversation proving she had been set up.

“Thanks to Gigi, we proved that they had manufactured the serious charges,” Klein said. “They made them up.”

A successful arbitration award in 2016 ordering her returned to work didn’t end her legal struggles. Our union then had to seek confirmation of the award in Onondaga Supreme Court. Once we won that case, the county appealed, but in January 2018, the court dismissed the county’s appeal, finally setting in motion her return to work this past March.

She is now working in a separate building away from her former harasser. The county was ordered to pay her nearly $185,000 in back pay, with interest and to restore her leave time.

“I can’t even describe it,” Potocki said. “I was just so happy and vindicated, and thankful for my union.”
As a single mother of five children, Potocki struggled over the years she was out of work.

“What my employer did to me just about destroyed me emotionally and financially,” she said. “It was the worst thing I’ve ever been through and I cannot put into words how much I appreciate my union being there for me. I didn’t think much about the benefits our union provided before I needed them.”

“I appreciate CSEA and Steven Klein for fighting so hard to get me all my back pay and benefits and putting me back to work,” she said.

For Klein, after such a long time arguing her case, to see Potocki returned to work was very satisfying.

“It was gratifying that the arbitrator saw through the county’s flimsy case and Ms. Potocki was vindicated,” he said. “This shows the power of the union. We get justice for our members, no matter how long it takes.”

— Mark M. Kotzin

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Mark Kotzin has been passionately advocating on behalf of workers for more than 29 years, previously as the communications specialist in our union's Central Region, and currently as CSEA's statewide Director of Communications.

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