FINANCIAL DISTRICT — A maintenance firm that services Goldman Sachs' headquarters left a cleaner high and dry in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, firing him after he worked to secure the building from the epic storm and forcing him to walk home to Staten Island through chest-high flooded streets, a new lawsuit charges.
Mefit Zecevic, 42, claims after being booted from his job site by a drunken boss, he suffered a bone-chilling 13-hour odyssey to get home, fearfully wading through murky waters in the Financial District and slogging across the Brooklyn Bridge and the Verrazano Bridge.
Zecevic is now suing his former employer, ABM Industries Inc., for $10 million, accusing the firm of wrongfully terminating him over allegations he stole $100 from a co-worker and ignoring his pleas for shelter after kicking him out of Goldman's 200 West St. building.
"I have been practicing law for over 25 years, and thought I had seen it all in terms of mistreatment from employers," Zecevic's lawyer, William Perniciaro, wrote in a letter to ABM. "However, your company has the dubious distinction of the worst abuse of human dignity that I have ever witnessed."
An ABM employee for 11 years, Zecevic reported to work on Oct. 28, the day before Sandy struck the city, and helped stack sandbags along the building and move key equipment to higher floors. For the next two nights, he and his co-workers slept in the building because it was too dangerous to leave and all the major crossings had been shut down.
The lawsuit claims that on the morning of Oct. 30, as most of the Financial District was submerged in water, Zecevic's manager had gotten drunk off booze from a Goldman Sachs restaurant and ordered him to clean a storage area on the seventh floor and retrieve a co-worker's shirt.
At 9:40 p.m. that evening, as Zecevic swept the lobby of Sandy, his manager — still reeking of liquor — told him he was fired because his co-worker had accused him of lifting $100 from the shirt, according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Manhattan Civil Supreme Court.
Zecevic begged his boss to let him stay as the surrounding streets were flooded, and the lower half of Manhattan was without power, the lawsuit says. He pleaded for a room and even asked to stay under a stairwell in the building, but his boss allegedly said no.
When he started his walk home, Zecevic said a cop car spotted him walking to an overpass at West Street. The officer took Zecevic back to the Goldman's building and told the manager that the decision endangered him, but the boss still said no, the lawsuit claims.
After the officer left, Zecevic was forced to slog through frigid chest-high water on West Street in darkness — all while fearing downed electrical lines, hidden dangers from excavation work and disease from sewage.
He eventually made his way to City Hall and over the Brooklyn Bridge, then headed south to the Verrazano Bridge. There a police car escorted him across the span. On the other side, he walked the final four miles to his Oakwood home.
"He spent the next hours shivering in his home and in pain from stiffness and exhaustion," the lawsuit says.
ABM denied in a statement on Friday Zecevic's version of events.
“Mr. Zecevic’s claims and characterizations are inaccurate and misleading, including but not limited to his descriptions of the circumstances surrounding his termination for theft and his departure," the statement said. "Because this is pending litigation, we intend to let our legal filings speak for themselves.”
Due to the experience, Zecevic claims he now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has had contemplations of suicide, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also claims that the Department of Labor later ruled that Zecevic did not commit any misconduct and granted him unemployment benefits.
Zecevic lawyer, Perniciaro, said a Goldman Sachs managing director even wrote a letter to ABM, lobbying for the firm to reinstate Zecevic.
"Goldman loved the guy — a managing director reached out personally wrote on his behalf," Perniciaro said.