May 10, 2012 -- A gay man in Manhattan contends he was fired because he objected to his boss's biased hiring: The boss, he alleges, had a bias against hiring straight people.
Jamie Ardigo, 32, of Hoboken, is suing investor and entrepreneur J. Christopher Burch of New York for sex-discrimination and wrongful termination. Ardigo, who had been hired as HR director for J. Christopher Capital, Burch's company, contends he was fired when he sought to change what he claims was Burch's and the company's discriminatory practices.
Ardigo tells ABC News that when he went to work for the company in early November 2011 he had no idea he was signing on with a biased outfit. "Did I have any inkling what I was getting into? No, I did not. I went there with the expectation that, as I'd been told, there was a family environment where employees and managers supported one another, and there was an open-door policy."
Things went downhill quickly, he claims in his suit.
Less than four weeks later, he says, he was seated in a meeting where Burch announced the fact that he hired only gay men because they were productive, and because he trusted them. Burch said the same thing, Ardigo asserts, on other occasions: "I witnessed it in meetings with the executive management team, where he'd blatantly state the fact that he only likes to hire gay men and beautiful women."
Ardigo found this troubling on two levels, he says: As a gay man, he personally was offended. And as an HR professional "keenly aware" of the need to maintain a non-discriminatory atmosphere in the workplace, he knew that both the attitude expressed and any hiring that bore it out was contrary to federal and New York City law.
"I was highly concerned for the organization and uncomfortable myself working there," he says. "I had never worked for an organization that made decisions based on that or that made comments like that."
Burch's lawyer, Brian Cousin of law firm SNR Denton refutes Ardigo's story, telling ABC: "The company has reviewed the allegations and denies any wrongdoing. It denies there was discrimination or retaliation." Ardigo, says Cousin, was fired for "a performance-related issue."
Ardigo, for his part, says he was fired because he called management's attention to instances of discriminatory and inappropriate behavior, including one in which a female employee, when being introduced for the first time to Ardigo, said to the person making the introduction, "Oh, are you going to introduce me to another gay guy?!"
In another alleged instance, a male employee insinuated that a female employee had a vibrating dildo in her purse.
When Ardigo reported this last incident to management and sought to have the male employee reprimanded, his says his report was ignored and no reprimand was given. "The investigation ended in absolutely nothing. The recommendation I had made was not followed through on."
Instead, he says, pressure was brought to bear on him: His supervisor began pressing him to reveal information about himself. "He stated that he needed to trust me, and in order to do that he needed to know more about me." This made Ardigo uncomfortable: "Knowing the culture of the organization, hearing about their hiring only gay men, I felt there was an expectation that I had to reveal that information in order to be successful at work."
As an HR professional, he found this pressure "highly inappropriate."
Regarding his job performance, his legal complaint says that not only was his work "highly regarded within the company," but that general manager Jennifer Grillo publicly acknowledged the fact. The complaint also says that Ardigo, rather than being a "disruptive" employee, "had been thanked several times for his productive support."
His suit seeks damages of $1 million.
How could any company today allow the kind of comments that Ardigo alleges and not expect to get sued?
"It's more common than you'd think," says Walker Harman, Jr., Ardigo's attorney. A boss's ego, he says, "can be a powerful driver. You believe that you're untouchable, that you're not violating any law." Highly creative people, he says, "often think that they treat their people so well that they'll never be called out; that because they're so good to their gay employees--ostensibly advantaging a disadvantaged group," their liberality gives them permission to say anything they want.
Ardigo says that when he approached a member of the company's senior management with his concerns about Burch's alleged statements, he was told, "Well, he's the owner of the company."
Ardigo says his goal now is to obtain employment with an organization "that takes discrimination seriously and treats their employees in an equitable and equal manner."