Posted by on October 21, 2021 8:17 pm

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Categories: Coal Region Newswire Coal Region Newswire 2 Local News Schuylkill County Me Too

tax assessment office shake up at schuylkill county courthouse was retaliation against jane doe plaintiffs in sexual harassment lawsuit

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says Schuylkill County government officials’ decision earlier this year to restructure the Tax Assessment office was an act of retaliation against Jane Doe whistleblowers who’ve filed a federal sexual harassment lawsuit against them.

This is the second strike against Schuylkill County government officials in as many weeks from the EEOC. A previous decision determined officials subjected women to sexual harassment and did nothing to stop it.

In a determination letter dated Oct. 21 and received by The Canary the same day, EEOC Deputy District Director Dana Hutter writes,

“The evidence secured during the course of the investigation indicates that despite confirming the allegations of discrimination raised in the May 2020 internal complaint, (Schuylkill County government) subjected, and continues to subject, Charging Party and a class of females to discrimination and retaliation by way of further harassment and a continued hostile work environment.

“The evidence secured during the course of the investigation also indicates that the restructuring of the Office of Tax Assessment was based on pretextual reasons to retaliate against Charging Party and the class of females who were similarly harassed and engaged in the protected activity of filing EEOC charges.

“I have determined there is reasonable cause to believe that (Schuylkill County) violated Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act) when it subjected Charging Party, and a class of females, to discrimination and retaliation by subjecting, and continuing to subject them to sex-based harassment/sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. Further, I have determined that there is reasonable cause to believe (Schuylkill County) violated Title VII by subjecting Charging Party to retaliation via job reassignment, which resulted in Charging Party’s wage losses.”

EEOC Rules Tax Assessment Office Shake-up at Schuylkill Courthouse is Retaliation Against Jane Does

In a previous EEOC ruling released on Oct. 8, Hutter determined that Schuylkill County officials failed to stop a pattern of sexually harassing and retaliatory behavior against the Jane Doe plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit. The lawsuit claims Commissioner George Halcovage harassed them for years and that Administrator Gary Bender and Solicitor Glenn Roth did nothing to stop it.

Since that lawsuit was filed in US District Court earlier this year, the County has taken some rather obvious steps to push back, the EEOC determined.

In fact, right now, 2 of the 4 women are suspended from work without pay over an alleged infraction in which they used their work computers to access legal information for personal reasons. Bender admitted in public that he is the one who decided to suspend the Jane Doe plaintiffs from their jobs, despite being a defendant in that lawsuit.

We’ve confirmed that those 2 Jane Doe plaintiffs remain suspended from their jobs, as of Thursday evening.

But before the women were suspended, they and their office have been subject to increased scrutiny and a complete overhaul.

The Clumsy Restructuring of Schuylkill County Tax Offices

Earlier this year, seemingly out of the blue, the Commissioners voted 2-1 to restructure the Tax Assessment and Tax Claims offices at the Courthouse in Pottsville. They said at the time, without evidence, that the way it had been previously restructured just wasn’t working.

That vote was taken 1 day after the Jane Doe plaintiffs filed their lawsuit and it involved demoting 2 of them from their jobs at the time, according to what Hess said at the time. Based on a Canary investigation of public records involving employee salaries, we can confirm that the 2 Jane Doe plaintiffs who were victims of the tax offices restructuring did suffer significant financial loss by the decision.

The County denied all along that there was any conflict of interest with defendants in that lawsuit taking executive action against the Jane Does. Instead, they said a “human resources consultant” advised them to making the changes.

Since then, however, the offices have barely been functioning, from what we’ve been told by multiple sources close to the situation. And the County has clumsily tried to restructure the offices, proving that although it claimed it wasn’t functioning properly, they had no idea how to fix it.

The County hired a pair of high-priced consultants and that’s resulted in hiring one person who wasn’t certified for the job at the time and hiring an “interim” employee, most recently.

EEOC gives the County 10 days to respond to its latest determination that it violated the Civil Rights Act by retaliating against these employees. Each of the 2 complaints with EEOC were filed by one of the Jane Doe plaintiffs, known as “Charging Party” in the EEOC documents.

The EEOC urges parties to agree to informal conciliation to settle what it’s determined to be workplace law violations.

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