The state has secretly settled an embarrassing federal racial-discrimination lawsuit, The Post has learned. The suit accused Paterson, back when he was Senate minority leader in 2003, of firing a white Senate photographer in order to replace him with an African-American.
The lawsuit had been scheduled to go to trial in federal court Monday in Syracuse, with Paterson, the state's first black governor, as a key witness. The case was settled earlier in the week, although a few glitches delayed the final deal until yesterday, legislative sources said.
The settlement ends a civil-rights action first filed in 2005 by Joseph Maioriello, 56, of Schenectady, a 26-year Senate employee who originally sought $1.5 million.
He was fired from his $34,000-a-year job as a photographer two years earlier and replaced by a black employee, El-Wise Noisette. The shakeup happened after Paterson ousted then-Sen. Martin Connor (D-Brooklyn) as the minority leader.
Connor was expected to testify that Maioriello was a good photographer.
While neither Paterson nor the state admitted that Maioriello was a victim of racial discrimination, the size of the settlement means "that the state wouldn't have made out very well if it had gone to trial," said a source close to the lawsuit.
"If nothing wrong happened, why is the state paying out this kind of money?" the source asked.
Maioriello's lawyer, Anne-Jo Pennock McTague of Albany, told The Post that her client was "satisfied with the amount and the fact of a settlement."
Paterson was expected to be one of Maioriello's star witnesses in federal court if the case had gone to trial, a lawyer close to the case said.
The settlement was initially delayed when Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith (D-Queens), Paterson's successor and a fellow African-American, refused to give his approval.
Smith had veto power over the settlement since the suit was filed against the Senate. He was in the awkward position of either authorizing a large payment for alleged reverse discrimination or holding out for a trial, which would have forced Paterson to testify under oath.
Austin Shafran, a spokesman for Smith, said he delayed the final settlement to determine if the cost "was acceptable."
Smith was represented by lawyers from the office of state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, which had no comment.
In the lawsuit, Maioriello claimed he was told by John McPadden, then Paterson's chief of staff, that he was being fired because a number of minority senators wanted to replace him with "a minority photographer, a black photographer."
He said he was also told, "You got to remember who Sen. Paterson is. Sen. Paterson is black."
Paterson, who is legally blind, claimed in a sworn deposition that he didn't see well enough to have fired Maioriello because of his race.
A spokesman for Paterson later said the comment was "a quip, a joke."
Paterson and McPadden denied the race-bias claim.