Posted by on November 4, 2021 4:36 pm

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

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Schuylkill County Commissioners planned to fire 2 of the 4 Jane Doe plaintiffs who are suing their government/employer over an alleged infraction in which they used LexisNexis for non-work-related purposes. But that didn’t go as planned on Thursday.

The “termination” action was listed on the Commissioners Personnel Action Report (aka PAR in Courthouse lingo) at Thursday’s work session meeting. On the PAR, the employees are listed as Angela Toomey and Denise McGinley-Gerchak, who have previously been “outed” as 2 of the 4 plaintiffs who’ve filed a lawsuit against Commissioner George Halcovage, Administrator Gary Bender, and Solicitor Glenn Roth, for sexual harassment and complicity of that behavior at the Courthouse.

PAR reports are typically presented by the Human Resources Director at Commissioners meetings and work session meetings. That’s Heidi Zula at Schuylkill County Courthouse and she was recently added as a defendant in that same lawsuit, along with her predecessor, Doreen Kutzler.

You can see the PAR report for Nov. 4’s meeting here:

PAR 11-4-21

Had the Commissioners actually voted on this motion, the termination would have been in effect immediately. But the motion to do so was tabled, pending an investigation by yet another outside law firm the Commissioners agreed to hire just a few minutes prior on Thursday.

Firing of 2 Jane Does from Schuylkill County Courthouse Jobs Tabled

These 2 Jane Doe plaintiffs, Toomey and McGinley-Gerchak, were suspended indefinitely without pay for this alleged infraction. That was a move authorized by Bender, who is named in the lawsuit, too, for his role in allegedly allowing Halcovage to continue his actions and not taking steps to protect the alleged victims from the Commissioner.

A controversy brewed over that move because it was not made public through a Commissioners meeting and one of those PAR reports. At one point, Clerk of Courts Maria Casey, who’s been the unofficial vocal defender of the Jane Does in the lawsuit, questioned how Bender could take part in any action against the women related to their jobs.

And recent determinations from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission back that up. In one determination letter, the EEOC says the women in that lawsuit are being subjected to retaliatory actions by their superiors at the Courthouse.

The County rejected those EEOC determinations in a statement issued last week by Commissioners Chair Boots Hetherington. And the County backed up that rejection on Thursday by trying to fire two of the women in the lawsuit over this alleged LexisNexis infraction.

“I’m wondering how it even came this far,” Casey wondered on Thursday after the Commissioners had agreed to table the terminations. “Who is advising you to do this?”

“He definitely can not vote,” she said, pointing at Halcovage. “It should not have come to this. This is outright bullying.”

Independent Investigation

For now, that outrage is moot because, as noted, the firings were tabled.

Earlier in the meeting, before the terminations were set to be considered, the Commissioners agreed to hire the law firm of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin, and Mellott LLC “for the purpose of advising the County pertaining to various data protection statutes and improper use of third-party information search software conducted by County employees.”

The Commissioners approved that motion to retain the law firm but Commissioner Gary Hess amended the motion by requiring that this law firm conduct an “independent investigation” into whether any discipline is warranted based on Pennsylvania employment laws.

Hess said Thursday before voting to table the terminations, “The issues surrounding the proposed terminations are very concerning to me. They involve long-term employees who are facing severe discipline after filing a lawsuit against certain employees of the County. I do not want to make a decision that is detrimental to the County. I know an internal investigation was performed. However, it was performed by people who are parties to the lawsuit. I am in NO WAY, and I repeat NO WAY attacking the integrity or the credibility of those employees who did the investigation. I want to make sure the employees are afforded due process and that any adverse employment decision is in no way retaliatory against the employees. I also believe that an independent investigation will protect the employees who performed the internal investigation.”

Halcovage then said he’d not vote on the actions. He said, “On the advice of counsel, based on conflict of interest, I will abstain from voting on the terminations of Ms. Toomey and Ms. Gerchak.”

If Halcovage abstains from a possible vote on their terminations in the future, it may be difficult for them to be approved. Hess, who seems unlikely to ever approve it no matter what that law firm investigation finds, would need to approve the firings.

FULL COVERAGE:

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