Employee files $6 million defamation suit over ‘graphic and disgusting’ cartoons

Friday, July 17, 1998

The more than 100 cartoons drawn and distributed by his co-workers were no laughing matter for a New York currency trader.

A New York state court is set to hear the case of Anthony Nacinovich, who claims his co-workers' drawings damaged his reputation.

Nacinovich is suing his former employer, Tullett & Tokoyo Forex, Inc., for $2 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages. He contends he was defamed and harassed by the racist and sexually explicit cartoons that were distributed around his workplace between 1993 and 1995.

Tullett, an international financial brokerage house, fired Nacinovich in 1996 on grounds that he had falsified expense reports, was insubordinate, failed to dress appropriately and was chronically tardy or absent from work.

State Justice Lorraine Miller reviewed the cartoons, found “a pervasive campaign of discrimination” and agreed that the plaintiff has the right to press ahead with his defamation and sexual harassment suit.

In May, Miller wrote that the cartoons were not humorous but “injured the plaintiff's reputation and exposed him to ridicule and shame among his co-workers.”

“In view of this court, as well as others, 'humor is a fragile thing' and what separates remarks that are humorous from those that are both humorous and defamatory is whether the defamatory matter was intended to injure as well as amuse and whether it gives rise to an impression that the statements or characterizations are true.”

Marshall Bellovin, Nacinovich's lawyer, said that his client was dismissed by Tullett after he complained to superiors about the “graphic and disgusting” cartoons.

“Common [legal] restrictions on the First Amendment right of free speech are based on a person's right to have his character and reputation free from malicious attacks. And this certainly qualifies as a malicious attack,” Bellovin said.

“Anytime you have a defamation case, there's an opportunity for the other side to raise the First Amendment argument,” he said.

The suit alleges that the pictures of Nacinovich were of a sexual nature and were offensive, degrading, vulgar and humiliating. Certain pictures depicted him engaging in oral sex with a male co-worker, sodomizing a pig and masturbating while on a toilet.

Other pictures, which Nacinovich alleges were directed at disparaging his Serbian and Italian heritage, depicted him flatulating after eating ethnic dishes. One cartoon labeled him a “fat Serbian dope.”

Tullett alleges that the drawings cannot be considered defamatory because they are cartoons which no reasonable person would understand to contain actual facts about the plaintiff.

Steve Baker, Tullett's chief administrative officer, said : “We believe that Mr. Nacinovich's claims are without merit, and we're confident that we will prevail.”

Tullett has made attempts to settle the case, Bellovin said, but “those attempts have been fruitless to date.”

According to Bellovin, his client now works as a part-time chauffeur at less than half the salary he made at Tullett.

A trial date has been set for November 10.