Age discrimination case still in hands of state agency
The age discrimination complaint filed by five former Antrim Township employees is still in the open investigation phase by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.
On Jan. 23, 2009, five of six employees fired by township supervisors the previous August submitted the complaint. The ages of each person at the time were utilities superintendent Larson Wenger, 54; manager Ben Thomas Jr., 52; utilities director Charles Goetz, 51; finance secretary Eileen Strausner, 50; and roadmaster Paul Barnett, 47. Their years of employment with the township were, respectively, 10, 12, eight, four and 15.
Shannon Powers, PHRC spokesman, said last week that no information was yet available for disclosure to the public. The department began its investigation Feb. 28 and has no deadline to complete its work. Powers said due process takes time. While each phase has time limits for requests for information or responses, the complexity of any complaint determines how long it will take for a ruling. Whether Antrim or the employees had ever requested an extension was confidential.
The township insurance company Penn National Casualty hired Crystal Clark from Thomas, Thomas and Hafer, LLP in Harrisburg to represent it in the proceedings. The five ex-employees do not have to retain legal counsel.
At the one year mark of the filing, the employees have the option of taking the case to the Court of Common Pleas. If that should occur, the PHRC would close its case, Powers said. If not, it will continue its investigation.
“We always try to settle,” she stated. “If we find probable cause, then there is a final attempt at conciliation. If that fails, there is a public hearing and all information is in the public arena.”
From the hearing would come a final legal order which is binding on both sides. If a settlement is reached earlier, it is binding but the terms would remain private.
Likewise, as a result of its investigation the PHRC could find no probable cause and then the case would be closed.
Last year the commission had 4,000 active cases and only 12 to 15 resulted in a final legal order. The rest were settled early. Powers said few complaints ever get to the public hearing stage, because the parties know their issues are about to be aired. Sometimes just getting the case on the docket spurs the two sides to reach a mutual agreement.
The 11-member PHRC enforces the commonwealth’s laws that prohibit discrimination, including in employment. It looks into cases it considers valid, through obtaining documents and interviewing witnesses. If the case reaches the hearing stage, a hearing officer or a panel of commissioners will moderate the session and issue a recommendation. The full commission will vote on whether to adopt the legal order.
If the case is resolved with a settlement, the commission also votes on whether to adopt the terms. That makes it legally binding.
“We can settle any step along the way,” Powers reiterated.
On August 21, 2008, supervisors Curtis Myers, Fred Young III, Samuel Miller and Rick Baer fired six employees based on results of the Dhillon Management Services management operations study conducted over the summer. Assistant roadmaster Robert Wible did not join the age discrimination complaint. Supervisor James Byers was on vacation during the meeting and has stated he did not support the firings. Young was immediately hired as paid interim administrator until Bradley Graham, 45, was hired in February 2009.