Jennifer Millman

Autistic Ex-Aide Had Precious Teddies Decapitated While Working for NYC Politician, Lawsuit Alleges

A spokesperson for the City Council said it has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination

What to Know

  • Michael Bistreich alleges he was subject to torment and discrimination over his Asperger's syndrome during his employment
  • He claims he had decapitated and other gruesome stuffed animals left on his desk and was locked in a basement, among other complaints
  • A spokesperson for the City Council said it has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination

An man who suffers from Asperger's syndrome claims he was mocked for his disability, locked in the basement and had his precious teddy bears decapitated while working for a city councilman. 

Michael Bistreich is now suing the Brooklyn Democrat and the city for $10 million, claiming he suffered "degrading and humiliating discrimination" over his disability.

He alleges in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that he was tormented over his autism by City Councilman Vincent Gentile and his senior staff over the two and a half years he served as legislation and budget director in Gentile's office, which represents the 43rd District. 

Speaking with NBC 4 New York on Tuesday, Bistreich said he gets attached to things like his pet bunny rabbit, named Coco Puffs, action figures and stuffed animals.

But rather than having his workmates respect this, he said he was "mocked constantly".

Bistreich showed NBC 4 New York photos of the day he came to work and found that someone had ripped the head off his brown teddy bear, and impaled the head of a white teddy bear on a flag pole.

"I hid in the back conference room there. For an hour. I didn't want to talk to anyone there. I refused to. I got on the phone with my parents and they had to calm me down," he said.

By Wednesday evening, tens of people had expressed their condolences for Bistreich on social media, and offered to buy him new teddies.

Bistreich, who is high functioning and graduated from St. John's University summa cum laude with two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree, was later told Gentile's then chief of staff coordinated the placement of mutilated animals on Bistreich's desk, the lawsuit reads.

The chief of staff allegedly had an even "worse" display planned for Bistreich, but backed off after the aide isolated himself in the conference room. 

The decapitations of his teddy bears are just a few claims listed in his multi-million dollar lawsuit.

Among the other allegations of torment: being locked in a dark basement and passed over for raises in favor of less deserving colleagues. 

"Most of the staff knew about it but they were afraid to say anything," Bistreich said. "They felt like they were under the thumb of the council member and the chief of staff."

Despite the alleged harassment, Gentile and his staff members consistently praised Bistreich's work, increasing his responsibility and bestowing positive feedback on him, the lawsuit says. But as his responsibilities grew so did his public visibility. 

Bistreich has tics associated with his Asperger's syndrome; at times his hands shake and his head twitches without his control. The more he interacted with people outside the office, the more Gentile allegedly harassed him. 

According to the lawsuit, Gentile told Bistreich on one occasion that his head twitches and lack of eye contact were annoying.

He allegedly told him his tics were getting worse and urged he take medication, though there is no medication Bistreich could take to treat his Asperger's. 

This summer, Bistreich lost a raise he had just received and his legislative director title. Gentile said it was because he took a vacation, but according to the lawsuit, Bistreich had the pol's approval to take the time, and lawyers say the "vacation defense" was a pretext to demote Bistreich. 

The work environment had become so hostile Bistreich quit nine days later. 

Bistreich is seeking $10 million in compensatory damages from the city and Gentile for loss of earnings and emotional suffering stemming from the alleged discrimination, according to the lawsuit. 

"I don't want to see it happen ever again, and if letting people know can stop that, that's the most important thing to me," he said.

A spokesperson for the City Council said it has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination. 

“We take all allegations of discrimination extremely seriously and will review the lawsuit when we are served," the statement said. 

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