Ocean Casino Resort Whistleblower Lawyer Alleges Wrongful Termination, Replaced with Less Experienced Male Attorney

Posted on: September 24, 2020, 09:10h. 

Last updated on: September 25, 2020, 02:03h.

Veteran gaming executive Loretta Pickus claims she was wrongfully fired from her role as general counsel and senior vice president at Atlantic City’s Ocean Casino Resort. She previously raised concerns about the gaming property allegedly relaying inaccurate information to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (NJDGE).

Loretta Pickus Atlantic City Ocean Casino Resort
Atlantic City’s Ocean Casino Resort fired Loretta Pickus, a general counsel and senior vice president after she raised concerns about audit committee minutes, she claims in a lawsuit. (Image: Law.com)

In July 2019, Pickus voiced objections to officials from the Luxor Capital Group about alleged discrepancies taken at the audit committee’s meeting held in January of that year. On Jan. 23, 2020, Pickus asked the audit committee to correct the minutes.

Four days later, Pickus was fired, with a company official telling her she should have spoken “softer” and “less harshly” when she reported her concerns, the lawsuit said. Pickus was replaced with a less-experienced male attorney. She has more than 30 years’ experience as a general counsel in the New Jersey casino sector.

“Loretta Pickus was fired for objecting to Ocean Casino’s submission of inaccurate information to the state agency charged with regulating it and the reasons … for the decision to fire her reveal a retaliatory motive fueled by gender discrimination,” Pickus’ attorney, Kathryn McClure of New Jersey-based Smith Eibeler, a law firm specializing in employment law, said in a statement provided to Casino.org.

“Ms. Pickus has suffered not only economic and emotional harm but harm to her professional reputation in a small industry,” McClure added.

The lawsuit was filed this week in Atlantic County Superior Court against Ocean Casino Resort and Luxor Capital. Also named were Cory Morowtiz and Fred DeVesa, members of the audit committee. She is seeking restitution, back pay, and damages, including punitive damages.

The discrepancies were related to the appointment of a new director of surveillance at the casino, identified in the lawsuit as Mark Evans. The lawsuit claims there were deficiencies in his performance. It also mentions the controversy over whether the appointment was permanent or temporary.

There may have been less legal liability for the company if Evans was only a temporary appointment, based on statements quoted in the lawsuit.

Toxic Termination

It was also alleged that NJDGE Director David Rebuck told Luxor and Ocean Casino officials that Pickus should be terminated. McClure describes Rebuck as “a longtime personal friend of” DeVesa.

An Aug. 22, 2019 email from Morowitz to DeVesa said, “Bottom line, we now have a toxic relationship with Loretta,” the lawsuit said.

Pickus was the only remaining member of the casino’s previous management when it was Revel Casino, the lawsuit said. She began working for Revel in 2013. She started working for Ocean City in April 2018.

The casino had been in trusteeship. Luxor and Ocean Casino were seeking approval from the NJDGE to own and operate the gaming property, McClure said.

Career, Reputation Harmed

“Because of the unjust and inappropriate decisions of these Luxor Group officials, my career and excellent reputation have been severely harmed,” Pickus said in a statement provided to Casino.org. “This has been a profoundly distressing and hurtful experience — particularly given that they acted quickly to replace me with a male attorney with less experience.”

During her long career, Pickus worked for casinos owned at the time by Donald Trump, the Asbury Park Press, a New Jersey newspaper, reported. Pickus also once represented Ivanka Trump when she was given the approval to become a board member of Trump Entertainment Resorts, the report adds.

“My clients will defend the complaint vigorously, as they view the allegations as baseless. They … are confident that they will be vindicated,” Gaetan J. Alfano, who works at Philadelphia’s Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti as an employment attorney and represents Morowtiz and DeVesa, told Casino.org.

Tim Louie, a spokesman for Ocean Casino, did not provide comment on the case. NJDGE did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.