The Real Deal New York

Lightstone’s former creative director claims she was fired for being a single mom

She says she was cut out of promised $1.5M equity
By Kathryn Brenzel | April 20, 2018 08:30AM

Moxy Times Square (inset: Audra Tuskes and Mitchell Hochberg)

The Lightstone Group’s former creative director claims she was “stigmatized and penalized” by the company for being a single mother and was abruptly fired as punishment for spending time with her young daughter during a holiday weekend.

Audra Tuskes, who was hired as Lightstone’s creative director in 2015, filed a lawsuit against Lightstone and its president, Mitchell Hochberg, for allegedly discriminating against her for being a caregiver to her daughter, who is now 6. Tuskes accuses Hochberg of treating her like a lower level assistant — despite her title as vice president/creative director — and demanding that she be available to him 24/7.

She was repeatedly forced to cancel scheduled vacation time and make last-minute childcare arrangements, due to “Hochberg’s desire to have her nearby absent any actual, work-related need,” according to the lawsuit.

Hochberg and representatives for Lightstone declined to comment. A response to the lawsuit on behalf of the company and its president was filed earlier this month in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan denying the allegations.

The lawsuit claims Hochberg’s behavior stemmed from his “avowed belief that women either needed to stay single at work, or fulfill their caretaker roles by remaining at home with the children while men went to work at Lightstone unburdened by their childcare responsibilities.”

He allegedly acted inappropriately toward Tuskes in other ways, including leaning close to her during a company training session on sexual harassment and calling her “sexy,” according to the lawsuit.

Sam Israel, an attorney for Tuskes, said her employer didn’t like the fact that she had another responsibility in her life aside from Lightstone, i.e. her daughter.

“There’s something called testosterone,” he said. “It’s almost as though it became a challenge to her employers’ will or power.”

Tuskes was tapped, among other things, to oversee the design of six Moxy-branded hotels for the developer. She didn’t attend the opening of the Moxy Times Square on September 21, 2017, to spend time with her daughter during the Rosh Hashanah holiday, according to the lawsuit. Tuskes states that she and other creative directors weren’t usually expected at such events, and she’d finished the bulk of her work on the project.

Still, Hochberg was allegedly unhappy about her absence and decided to terminate her position the Monday after the holiday weekend. She also claims that she was wrongfully denied $1.5 million in equity — $250,000 for each hotel — which she’d been promised when she was hired. According to the lawsuit, she was told she divested that equity when she took a vacation day on a scheduled work day. Tuskes alleges that Lightstone never intended to abide by her contract and used her termination as an excuse to withhold the payout.