Former county human resources director Donna Davis Javitz has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Luzerne County and two top county officials over her October termination.
Her suit, which also names as defendants Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik and outgoing county Manager Robert Lawton, says the county “failed to train its officials and personnel not to retaliate against a citizen who engaged in free speech.”
Davis, who lives in Lackawanna County, also said the county allowed “retaliatory actions.”
County Chief Solicitor C. David Pedri sent an email to the county council members Monday afternoon informing them of the suit.
“The matter has been referred to our insurance carriers. The county will be filing an answer to this complaint,” Pedri wrote.
Davis, an attorney, was terminated in October, but county officials have declined to discuss any details about her departure. She had been hired as human resources director in August 2014 at a salary of $55,000.
The complaint, which was filed by Pittston attorney Cynthia L. Pollick, alleges:
Davis met with county District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and her staff member in March 2015 because Davis believed a county employee illegally recorded a meeting with union members without her permission.
She alleges the recording was then used to prepare “verbatim notes” in an unfair labor practice charge against the county by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME.
Davis said others who reviewed the charge agreed conversations were recorded, including Parsnik and Pedri.
Salavantis said she would refer the case to the state Attorney General’s Office for investigation because it was a conflict for her office to handle the matter, but nobody from the state ever contacted Davis about the investigation.
Davis said she met with the district attorney about another matter in June 2015 and inquired about the Attorney General investigation into the alleged union wiretap violation, and Salavantis told her Lawton came to her and said he did not want to pursue the investigation.
She said Parsnik would “walk away or not respond” when she asked him several times about what happened to the investigation. She sent Parsnik and Pedri an email in September asking about the investigation, and neither responded.
An Oct. 16 hearing on the unfair labor charge was set before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, and Davis learned the hearing was cancelled because the union had reached a settlement with the county.
AFSCME union leaders have criticized Davis, alleging she failed to honor clear union contract requirements, resulting in more costly county arbitration claims. Davis’ complaint said the union’s unfair labor charge was “slanderous” and “contained many untruths.”
Davis said she appeared for a meeting with Parsnik Oct. 26 that was supposed to be about a Loudermill hearing for another county worker. A Loudermill hearing is a formal procedure used by public employers when employees face termination or suspension.
Instead, she said Pedri entered the office, and Parsnik told her to resign. She refused and said Pedri initially agreed she was entitled to a Loudermill hearing at her request but then “backed off that statement.”
She said Parsnik and Pedri did not provide any reasons for asking her to resign, despite her repeated requests for this information. Parsnik told her to “pack up her office.”
The complaint, which references the county’s “stigma” of political corruption following the Kids for Cash judicial scandal and other arrests of top county officials, said county policy and state law encourage employees to disclose information that they believe violates the law and prohibits them from being penalized or punished as a result of such whistleblowing.
The personnel code also says employees are entitled to due process before termination.
The complaint also says Parsnik told Davis shortly after her hiring to get rid of the county collective bargaining officer and hire an applicant who had applied for the human resources director job. No action was taken, and Davis said she ended up assuming the additional duties after Max Blaskiewicz retired as collective bargaining officer in February 2015.
Davis said she handled all issues “professionally and competently,” including disciplinary issues with employees that had “festered for years,” during her county employment and noted Lawton had described her as “an outstanding employee” in a February 2015 news article.
“Ms. Davis had a long record of accomplishments with Luzerne County, a ‘get things done’ attitude and a strong work ethic,” her complaint said. “Ms. Davis went above and beyond the limitations imposed on her by her management and performed at a high level.”
She is seeking reinstatement, back pay, damages, attorneys fees and costs and punitive damages.
Davis also has a pending suit against Lackawanna County, which alleges she was not considered for a human resources deputy director position in 2012 because she did not have political connections.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.