Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage and the other defendants in the Jane Doe sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit have asked a federal judge to dismiss the claims against them.
Court filings show that each Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgement by the July 31 deadline. And in those filings, each asked District Judge Martin C. Carlson to dismiss the lawsuit against them.
The common theme among the filings by Halcovage, County Administrator Gary Bender, former Human Resources Directors Heidi Zula and Doreen Kutzler, and Solicitor Glenn Roth is that neither of them, on their own, had the authority to do what the Jane Doe Plaintiffs are claiming happened to them.
Motions for Summary Judgement Filed in Jane Doe Lawsuit
In their 2021 lawsuit against Halcovage and these Defendants, the 4 Jane Does say they were subject to years of sexual harassment by Halcovage. They also claim they were retaliated against by the other Defendants and discriminated against based on their gender.
The Jane Does have already rejected an $850,000 settlement offer in this case. And recent settlement negotiations completely fell apart with no deal. Because of that, this case inches toward a potential trial.
Part of that process includes these filings of Motions for Summary Judgement. In them, Defendants ask the overseeing judge to rule on some or all of the claims in the lawsuit, possibly eliminating the need for a trial or at least limiting its scope.
Let’s take a look at each of the Defendant’s filing of a Motion for Summary Judgement.
Halcovage requests the court to rule in his favor due to the following arguments:
- The plaintiffs, referred to as “Does 1 and 2,” cannot produce evidence of conduct by Halcovage that is considered sufficiently outrageous and extreme to qualify as IIED under Pennsylvania law. They also fail to provide competent medical evidence of the alleged emotional distress caused by Halcovage’s actions.
- The plaintiffs allege that Halcovage individually retaliated against them and aided others in retaliation, including actions like suspension without pay, pay rate changes, and office restructuring. Halcovage counters this claim, arguing that he did not make these decisions alone but acted as part of a three-person commissioner board. As such, he lacks the individual decision-making authority and thus cannot be held personally liable for these actions. Any claims against him individually should be dismissed.
- On the equal protection claims, Halcovage contends that the plaintiffs cannot factually prove they suffered adverse employment actions due to their gender. Furthermore, any potential adverse actions were taken in his role as a County Commissioner, which does not hold individual liability.
- Halcovage asserts that he is protected by qualified immunity from the suit.
He requests the court to enter a partial summary judgment in his favor, and he promises to submit a supporting statement of facts and a brief according to local civil procedure rules.
The claims against Gary Bender specifically include retaliation under the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act (PHRA), aiding and abetting discrimination under PHRA, a Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claim alleging discrimination, a Fourteenth Amendment claim alleging a hostile work environment, and a violation of the petition clause of the First Amendment alleging retaliation.
- Bender’s lawyers argue that he had no knowledge of Halcovage’s alleged behavior until May 2020, and as he did not have the authority to alter Halcovage’s employment, he cannot be liable for inaction. They also argue that Bender should be granted qualified immunity.
- They further contend that as a County Administrator, Bender did not have the authority to hire, fire, promote, or adjust the salaries of County employees. Therefore, they argue, he did not take any alleged adverse actions against the plaintiffs.
- The lawyers then outline their arguments against each claim. They dispute that Bender’s actions were retaliatory, arguing instead that they were based on legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. They also state that Bender did not possess the authority to commit the actions that the plaintiffs claim he did.
- Bender’s lawyers argue that he lacked the supervisory authority necessary for an aiding and abetting claim. They assert that he did not have the authority to promote, demote, or terminate the plaintiffs.
- Bender’s lawyers also dispute the plaintiffs’ Fourteenth Amendment claims, arguing that Bender did not engage in any affirmative conduct that contributed to the alleged discrimination.
The motion concludes by stating that a more detailed argument and a Concise Statement of Material Facts will be filed as per a stipulation between parties.
The primary allegations against Zula revolve around claims of retaliation, aiding and abetting discrimination, and violations of equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment and the First Amendment’s petition clause.
Zula’s defense asserts that she was not in a position of authority to control the plaintiffs’ employment or influence the alleged harassment.
It is also noted that she served as the County’s Human Resources Director from January 2021 to June 2022, a timeline that indicates she started her role after the initial complaint was reported and left before most of the alleged harassment occurred.
The motion seeks a summary judgment in Zula’s favor, asserting that she didn’t hold supervisory authority over the plaintiffs, didn’t take any adverse employment action against them, and thus, cannot be held responsible for the allegations.
Her defense also suggests that Zula is entitled to qualified immunity, a legal protection that shields government officials from being held personally liable for actions performed in their official capacity, provided their conduct didn’t clearly violate established statutory or constitutional rights.
Kutzler, who was an interim Human Resources representative for Schuylkill County, is now asking the court to rule in her favor, dismissing the claims against her. She served after Zula left the job and the County hired an outside firm, temporarily, to handle HR oversight.
Kutzler’s legal team argues that the plaintiffs haven’t provided enough evidence to prove she’s liable. To support her motion, Kutzler will present a brief and concise statement of facts following local legal rules and the court’s briefing schedule.
She is asking the court to rule in her favor without a trial, dismissing all the claims made against her in the plaintiffs’ second revised complaint.
Roth argues the plaintiffs cannot state a cause of action for retaliation under PHRA because they haven’t presented specific instances of his involvement in retaliation and he was not involved in any disciplinary decisions related to the plaintiffs.
He maintains that his role as Assistant Solicitor did not grant him supervisory authority over the plaintiffs, thus he couldn’t alter their employment terms.
Roth denies aiding and abetting under PHRA because he neither committed direct acts of discrimination nor failed to prevent further discrimination as he had no supervisory authority over the plaintiffs or other county employees.
Regarding the disparate treatment and hostile work environment charges under the Equal Protection Clause, Roth claims that he never engaged in direct harassment or discrimination, nor had an inappropriate relationship with the plaintiffs.
He asserts that no evidence has been presented indicating that he treated the plaintiffs differently than male colleagues in similar positions.
Lastly, Roth argues that plaintiffs cannot state a cause for retaliation under the Equal Protection Clauseas they need to prove he took retaliatory action in response to them exercising their constitutional rights, and he maintains that there’s no causal link established.