A former executive tasked with boosting New York Mets ticket sales has filed suit against the franchise alleging that refusing to marry the father of her child resulted in the team firing her.
The brief, filed in federal court in New York City, names the franchise’s front office and Jeffrey Wilpon, the club’s chief operating officer and son of the team’s owner, as defendants. Leigh Castergine, the former employee, charges the club with violating the Family and Medical Leave Act, among other statutes, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages, legal costs, interest, and funds to cover any taxes levied upon her should she win her case.
“Wilpon, the Team’s Chief Operating Officer and son of the principal owner, became fixated on the idea that Castergine would have a child without being married,” the lawsuit alleges. “He frequently humiliated Castergine in front of others by, among other things, pretending to see if she had an engagement ring on her finger and openly stating in a meeting of the Team’s all-male senior executives that he is ‘morally opposed’ to Castergine ‘having this baby without being married.’ Wilpon told Castergine that, when she gets a ring, she will make more money and get a bigger bonus.”
The Mets released three declarative sentences in response that made for far less interesting reading than the 14-page brief. “We have received and reviewed the complaint,” the team informed. “The claims are without merit. Our organization maintains strong policies against any and all forms of discrimination.”
The National League club’s defense may involve Castergine’s job performance. Despite playing in MLB’s largest media market, the Mets rank 21st in attendance this season. Last year, the team suffered through its worst season for attracting fans since 1997. Castergine points to $50,000 raises in 2012 and 2013, as well as a $125,000 bonus in 2013, as proof of her success in the job. But when the Mets hired her in 2010, they had just finished a season in which they averaged 32,401 fans a game. They’ve since dropped precipitously both relative to other clubs and in tickets sold. This current season, in which the Mets fired Castergine three weeks ago, the club averages about 5,500 fewer fans per game than the year they hired Castergine.
Perhaps anticipating such arguments, the suit alleges that the Mets “significantly overpriced its tickets.” It points to the team’s woes–the Mets last finished first in 2006–on the field as hindering Castergine’s efforts. The suit additionally alleges that ownership “all too often alienated fans by ridiculing the Team’s players and, at times, its own fans.”
The legal action avoids any suggestion that Castergine bore any responsibility for diminished attendance, a subject it completely avoids in all but oblique ways. Instead of her performance it points to her pregnancy as the catalyst for her dismissal. The suit quotes Wilpon: “I am as morally opposed to putting an e-cigarette sign in my ballpark as I am to Leigh having this baby without being married.”