The Western Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. was sued Wednesday on claims two executives sexually harassed a female employee and managers at Batavia Downs stole tips from her and other bartenders.
Among the allegations lodged against Chief Operating Officer Scott Kiedrowski and Director of Security Daniel Wood: a pattern of sexual harassment that extended over several years. Kiedrowski invited female employees to attend Bills and Sabres games at OTB’s suites, which one plaintiff contends was an effort to seduce her.
The lawsuit contends the alleged wage theft was brought to the attention of OTB management but, after correcting the problem, President and Chief Executive Officer Henry Wojtaszek fired one of the employees who had raised the issue.
Ginger Schroder, an attorney representing OTB, disputed and denied all of the allegations in a Dec. 18 letter, which she wrote in response to a Dec. 8 letter from the plaintiffs’ attorney, Claire Sellers of the law firm Hayes Dolce. Schroder asserted that the wage theft matter had been resolved, that OTB did not retaliate against employees, and that the sexual harassment allegations had “no basis.”
The lawsuit adds to OTB’s legal woes. It is being investigated by the FBI and state Inspector General and sued by its former chief operating officer. The state comptroller has issued two critical audits, including one that found fault with OTB’s use of tickets to concerts and sporting events.
Despite the problems, the OTB board last week gave Wojtaszek his second pay raise within the past year, bringing his annual salary to $287,000.
Kiedrowski, Wojtaszek’s right-hand man, also got a second raise last week to $173,000. After serving on OTB’s board of directors, he joined the OTB executive team when Wojtaszek became president and CEO in 2016. Kiedrowski, like Wojtaszek, previously served as chairman of the Niagara County Republican Party.
Wood, as chief of security, earns $83,000 annually.
Kiedrowski and Wood did not immediately respond to voicemails seeking comment from Investigative Post. Ryan Hasenauer, an OTB spokesperson, provided Schroder’s letter and other documents in response to questions from Investigative Post for this story.
The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Genesee County, seeks back pay for the three plaintiffs, economic damages for violations of the law, attorney fees and fines against OTB. In her Dec. 8 letter to OTB outlining the allegations, the plaintiffs’ attorney estimated the damages at up to $500,000.
Pattern of sexual harassment
According to the lawsuit, Wood began making advances toward Tara Sweet, a bartender at the time and the lead plaintiff, in October 2019.
“He frequently told [Sweet] that she is beautiful, she is a [hard worker], that they should run away together, that they should get married, and that her fiancé did not deserve her,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit further claims Wood “approached [Sweet] and hugged her or rubbed her back without her consent.”
So blatant were Wood’s advances that customers asked her if he was her boyfriend, the lawsuit states.
By 2023, his advances had escalated. On two occasions, the lawsuit claims, Wood texted Sweet to come to his office, first so he could give her a massage and next so she could take a break and nap on his couch.
In an interview, Sweet said Wood made her “uncomfortable” and that his behavior was “very over the top.” But she said she felt she couldn’t report Wood because he was a supervisor.
“I’m not going to be like, ‘Don’t frickin’ touch me,’ ” she said. “It puts you in an awkward situation.”
The lawsuit claims Wood was inappropriate with a second employee.
According to the lawsuit, the union in 2021 reported Wood to Sean Schiano, vice president of operations, claiming that Wood had “sexually assaulted a security guard when measuring her for her uniform.” Schiano told a union representative that he and another executive would address the matter.
Antonella Rotilio, who represents OTB employees for the United Public Service Employees Union, said she received blowback when she reported the incident.
“When I brought that to HR, they accused me of making false accusations, hunted down the employee, then did nothing about it,” she said.
The lawsuit claims nothing ever came of Rotilio’s complaint. Instead, Wood was promoted to director of security six months after the incident.
Sweet claims that Kiedrowski, too, subjected her to years of harassment.
In January 2020, Kiedrowski invited Sweet and two coworkers to OTB’s suite at KeyBank Center for a Buffalo Sabres game. After that game, the lawsuit claims, Kiedrowski began complimenting Sweet and even gave her a nickname, “special T.”
Kiedrowski then began texting Sweet, usually late at night. The messages made her “uncomfortable,” the lawsuit says.
In December 2021, Kiedrowski invited Sweet and other female coworkers to a suite, this time for the Bills game against the New England Patriots, according to the lawsuit. Sweet claims she went because she didn’t want to upset Kiedrowski. Significant others and family members were not invited, she said.
Not long after, Kiedrowski, like Wood before him, tried to get Sweet into his office, the lawsuit claims. He texted her one day in early 2022, asking her to bring him lunch. Sweet was “scared and creeped out by this request” and “did not want to be alone with him,” the lawsuit states. Still, she did so because “she was too scared to tell him no.”
In a June 2022 incident, the lawsuit claims Kiedrowski responded angrily after witnessing a customer verbally harassing her. Yet, instead of taking measures to prevent further harassment, the lawsuit claims Kiedrowksi “used it as an opportunity to hit on Sweet.”
The lawsuit says Kiedrowski left Sweet alone throughout 2023.
In an interview with Investigative Post, Rotilio said Kiedrowski invited Sweet and other female employees to games in an attempt to “groom” them. She said other employees have complained to her about Kiedrowski’s behavior but are too afraid to speak publicly about it or join the lawsuit.
“The consensus is that he’s a creep,” she said. “And they’re uncomfortable, but they’re afraid.”
In her Dec. 18 letter, Schroder said the allegations were “shocking, particularly when individuals are named without any evidentiary support.”
“If your clients persist in pursuing these meritless claims, they will need to do so in court and we will respond appropriately,” she wrote to Sellers.
Retaliation from OTB
The lawsuit further alleges that OTB managers engaged in wage theft against Sweet and the two other plaintiffs, Corinne Armison and Brooklynn Cline. The lawsuit claims that OTB let salaried managers share in the pool of tips, a violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
That matter came to light, Sweet and Rotilio said in an interview, after Sweet was suspended from work for over-serving a customer at the bar — a charge she disputes because other bartenders served the person, too. She turned to the union to fight the suspension, she said, and then received “less preferential” shifts from managers.
It was during those discussions with Rotilio that Sweet mentioned that managers had shared in the tip pool for years. The union then intervened on that issue and the retaliation continued in the form of assignment to less-desirable work shifts.
“It was definitely a target on my back,” Sweet said in an interview.
After a grievance proceeding, OTB agreed to stop the practice of cutting supervisors in on tips. In her letter, Schroder stated that while supervisors had in fact performed bartenders’ work, their involvement had no effect on their earnings because other employees would have stepped in to do it.
“Your clients would not have received any additional amounts from the tip pool and therefore did not suffer any economic loss,” Schroder wrote. “In short, there simply is no claim for unpaid tips.”
After that issue was settled, the lawsuit claims that “supervisors began to harass [Sweet] and her coworker creating a hostile work environment.”
Two weeks later, Wojtaszek fired Sweet after a meeting in which a dispute over an $8 tip was discussed. Rotilio, the union representative, said the dispute stemmed from a disagreement over whether a customer was charged twice for the tip.
The lawsuit says Sweet was never given a formal reason for her termination, and that her termination letter did not list one. Hasenauer, in an email, said the termination was “for just cause.”
“I hope that … justice is served to them,” Sweet said. “[I hope] they realize that they’re not allowed to just walk all over people and treat them however they want because they’re in positions of power.”