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Schuylkill County News

Schuylkill County Provides Update on DOJ Consent Decree Compliance

A Climate Survey was conducted in December.

A consulting firm Schuylkill County government is paying $450 an hour is apparently happy with how the Courthouse is complying with orders outlined in a Consent Decree with the US Dept. of Justice as part of the ongoing Jane Doe sexual harassment lawsuit.

At least, that’s what an attorney with the County’s Solicitor’s office said at the Commissioners’ Wednesday (Jan. 24) Board Meeting.

Shelby Hostetter, reading from a prepared statement, said the Commissioners and other County representatives met with Employment Practices Group on Jan. 12 to discuss the Courthouse’s participation in a “Climate Survey” that’s meant to solicit input from government employees on the workplace environment.

Commissioners hired Employment Practices Group in March 2023 as part of its Consent Decree entered into with the DOJ to settle that part of the lawsuit.

Schuylkill County was forced to hire a company like Employment Practices Group – one of several pre-approved by the DOJ from which the Commissioners had to choose – to help it implement policies that might prevent the alleged situations which led to that Jane Doe sexual harassment lawsuit.

In 2021, 4 Jane Doe County employees filed a federal lawsuit against former Commissioner George Halcovage, the County government itself, and several other County officials. That suit claims Halcovage subjected them to years of sexual harassment and the County was complicit in this behavior for not acting on their claims. Further, the lawsuit says the County retaliated against them for blowing the whistle on this alleged behavior.

After the employees filed that lawsuit, the DOJ eventually got involved as a party against the County but quickly settled with the Courthouse when the Commissioners signed a Consent Decree agreeing to certain terms, including hiring several outside consultants to help reshape policies designed to prevent such a lawsuit in the future.

Late last year, the County encouraged employees to participate in a “Climate Survey” to field responses on the workplace atmosphere at the Courthouse and other County agencies and departments elsewhere.

According to an internal email The Canary was given regarding this Climate Survey, results were confidential and collected by Employment Practices Group, not the County. This consultant plans to use the responses to craft policies and recommendations per the Consent Decree.

Hostetter said Wednesday, “EPG was very complimentary of the County’s engagement, collaboration, and cooperation with tasks with which EPG is involved per the Consent Decree, most notably the implementation of the Initial Climate Survey that was completed at the end of December. The County worked diligently alongside EPG in performing these tasks on or ahead of the proposed timelines set forth by the Department of Justice. EPG has been in regular contact with the Department of Justice to apprise them of the County’s commitment to fulfilling our obligations under the Consent Decree.”

The next stage, as it relates to Employment Practices Group, the County, and the Consent Decree, happens in March. Hostetter said the consultant will “provide its Consultant’s Report to the Department of Justice and the County. This Report will summarize the resultant data gleaned from the Initial Climate Survey, offer EPG’s insights about the County’s current working climate, and provide recommendations for improvement.”

Employment Practices Group will also supply the County with drafts of policies and procedures for the Commissioners to implement to get in line with the terms of the DOJ Consent Decree.

Hostetter added, “The County Commissioners would like to thank all County employees for their engagement with EPG and strong participation in the Initial Climate Survey. The high response rate from the survey shows that County employees care about their working environment. The survey will provide valuable data that, once summarized by EPG, will be taken into close consideration by the County as we work to strengthen our policies and practices in ways that support all of our employees.

“A safe workplace, one grounded in civility and respect and free from harassment and retaliation, is of paramount importance to this County. The County is committed to implementing and complying with future recommendations EPG and/or the Department of Justice,” she added.


OOPS: We hit Publish on this article not realizing we omitted the fact that Schuylkill County government (with your money) is paying Employment Practices Group $450 per hour, not $450.


Photo: Shelby Hostetter, an attorney with the Schuylkill County Solicitor’s office, provides an update on the Courthouse’s compliance with a Consent Decree Commissioners entered into with the US Dept. of Justice in 2023 to settle its claims in the Jane Doe sexual harassment lawsuit.

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  1. Coalregion12

    January 27, 2024 at 8:07 pm

    Does anyone know how many hours currently this group has charged so far?
    Also curious to know where the money comes to pay for this? Out of which budget?

  2. Val

    January 28, 2024 at 12:49 pm

    Transparency, here we go again. The Climate Survey results were confidential. Why? This is about public servants for cristsake, no? If everything is so wonderful, please let the public read it and comment if necessary. If someone wants to keep it “confidential” then pay for it from your own pocket.

  3. Tootsie

    January 29, 2024 at 5:34 am

    “A safe workplace, one grounded in civility & respect and free from harassment & retaliation, is of paramount importance to this County.” Really?! Then prove it. Who drafted the “prepared statement”? Another consultant to whom we paid beaucoup bucks? I’ll agree the statement comes across more effectively from Attorney Hostetter; glad to see a woman in the County Solicitors office. Couldn’t imagine Paul Datte trying to sell this message.

  4. PTFloridian

    January 29, 2024 at 10:55 am

    This money racket is all about damage control and optics.

  5. Dennis

    February 3, 2024 at 3:37 am

    As I read the article I wondered myself why these results aren’t published. Do we need to file a freedom of infonrequesy to see the results our taxes are paying $450 an hour for, after years of back room deals and ” good ol boy” slaps on the back while out money was washed down the drain because of the leaderships lack of oversight and wherewithal to stop the nonsense of Harrassing woman. No one had the b:-,” or intestinal fortitude to man up and discipline or fire the spineless perpetrator so now again no one has the character to allow us to see the results. After all why??? Why should they it’ll be the S.O.S once it’s put back behind clos3d doors or out to pasture.. Yes Jane doe should remain Jane Doe they have suffered enough but we the county need to see the results and decide if their up to our standards and ideals .

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