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Schuylkill County News

Schuylkill County Agrees to Pay a Jane Doe $1.7M Settlement But Plaintiff Wants a New Deal

The plaintiff and her attorney want to rescind their original agreement on a settlement.

There appears to be a partial settlement of the 2021 Jane Doe v. Schuylkill County sexual harassment lawsuit

However, the County is challenging an attempt by one plaintiff and her attorney to pull back the settlement apparently agreed to in early March.

According to court documents obtained by The Canary, in early March, the County and Jane Doe 1 appear to have reached agreement on a $1.7 million settlement. 

But then, the federal judge presiding over this lawsuit that includes 3 more Jane Doe plaintiffs, denied motions from the individual defendants for Summary Judgement.

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The individual defendants include former Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage, Solicitor Glenn Roth, Administrator Gary Bender, and former Human Resources Directors Heidi Zula and Doreen Kutzler. The County government, as a whole a defendant, too, did not file a motion for Summary Judgement.

After the judge made that ruling, Catherine Lowry, the Philadelphia attorney representing the Jane Doe plaintiffs, indicated to the County that Jane Doe 1 wanted to rescind the agreement on the $1.7 million settlement and instead sought $2 million.

The attorney representing the County, Bender, and Zula in this lawsuit, Marie Milie Jones, of the Pittsburgh firm JonesPassodelis, vehemently opposed that plan and has now filed a motion to urge Magistrate Judge Daryl F. Bloom to enforce the original $1.7 million settlement and then sanction Jane Doe 1 and her attorney.

The requested sanction would impose a fine, essentially, for more attorney fees. 

“This egregious behavior constitutes the type of extraordinary circumstances which render the award of attorneys’ fees necessary,” Jones writes in her motion to Bloom. “The troubling tactics employed on behalf of Doe 1 have required Defendants to spend its already limited resources to seek Court intervention to enforce a bona fide agreement.”

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Jane Doe 1 Wants $2 Million Settlement After Appearing to Agree to $1.7 Million

According to exhibits submitted as evidence accompanying the County’s latest filing, Schuylkill County Solicitor Paul Datte emailed Lowry on Feb. 28 indicating that the new board of Commissioners has given him leeway to negotiate a new settlement with Jane Doe 1 on the 2021 Jane Doe v. Schuylkill County lawsuit.

In that lawsuit, 4 Jane Doe plaintiffs claim they were subjected to years of abuse and harassment by then-Commissioner Halcovage and retaliation for speaking up against it by the other defendants. 

Specifically, Jane Doe 1 – with whom Halcovage has admitted in sworn depositions with this case to having a sexual relationship – claims she was raped by the former Commissioner.

In that email from Datte, he makes the offer of $1.7 million. The County and the plaintiffs previously rejected an $800,000 settlement offer in 2023. Another attempt at settling the lawsuit last year also resulted in no agreement.

On March 4, Lowry emails Jones indicating that Jane Doe 1 “has authorized me to accept the County’s offer of $1.7 million in exchange for a full and final release of all claims against all parties in the Doe litigation and of any other claim she has or could have agains the county or any county party (including the pending Hatter claim) …”

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Jane Doe 1 in the 2021 lawsuit appears as Witness Doe in a 2024 harassment lawsuit against current Schuylkill County Chief Tax Assessor Kent Hatter and the County. That lawsuit was filed by Jane Doe 2 from the 2021 lawsuit.

In her email to Jones, Lowry indicated that Jane Doe 2 was not interested in the settlement to which Jane Doe 1 agreed.

Lowry said the settlement agreement with Jane Doe 1 was contingent on it being finalized by March 15 and the payment being made by April 15.

Several days later, on March 7, an email exchnage between Jones and Lowry hinted at a holdup on the settlement agreement based on a confidentiality clause and other factors. 

Soon after that, Judge Bloom denied Motions for Summary Judgement from the individual defendants in the lawsuit. That prompted a change, apparently, from Jane Doe 1 and Lowry.

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On March 14, based on another exhibit filed with this latest motion by the County, Lowry writes to Jones, “In light of the Court’s recent rulings on the MSJs, (Jane Doe 1) has authorized me to reject the $1.7 million. While she is still open to discussing a quick and expeditious settlement, these recent rulings indicate that $1.7 (million) does not adequately compensate her for the harms suffered.”

Lowry then says that Jane Doe 1 wanted $2 million in the settlement as well as a mutual confidentiality on the amount of the settlement among other terms. She also said the original agreement was never formally finalized by the County.

“There will be no negotiations off of this amount,” Lowry writes. “This is the least (Jane Doe 1) is willing to accept at this time. (Jane Doe 1) has authorized me to reject any counter offers.”

That message touched off a firestorm, of sorts, and prompted Jones to file a motion before Judge Bloom urging him to enforce the agreement the County believes it had reached on the $1.7 million.

In reply to Lowry, Jones writes, “Your email below is an effort to change our agreement. The new amount you now seek is rejected and proposing it is viewed as an improper attempt to get out of a deal.”

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As of Monday afternoon, when that $1.7 million settlement originally agreed to was supposed to be paid out, no decision from Judge Bloom has been rendered.

These settlement terms only apply to Jane Doe 1. The other 3 Jane Doe plaintiffs have not accepted a settlement offer, nor has the County offered one recently, based on court records, and their case continues to advance toward a potential trial.

FULL COVERAGE: For our coverage on this issue since the beginning, follow this link: Jane Doe v. Schuylkill County

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