Last updated: February 19. 2014 11:29PM - 2101 Views
By - rdupuis@civitasmedia.com

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WILKES-BARRE — Former Freeland secretary/treasurer Marion Sunderman is suing the borough for at least $200,000 over her 2009 termination, accusing officials of age discrimination.

Sunderman, who was 55 when fired, says she was passed over for the borough manager’s position and demoted, then fired after complaining about the move. She also says there was a pattern of harassment to which she says she was subjected.

Sunderman’s case was removed from the state level to federal court last week on a motion filed by the borough. It has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Malachy E. Mannion.

The borough on Wednesday filed a motion to dismiss, suggesting among other things that Sunderman’s complaint is “devoid of facts.”

The basis of the four counts she is alleging are:

• Age discrimination, because her age put her under a legally protected class, and Sunderman believes age was a determining factor in her ouster.

• Harassment, because she was passed over in favor of someone with less experience.

Sunderman, who started working for the borough in 1980, says she was secretary/treasurer for more than 20 years. She writes in her complaint that she applied for the position of borough manager, but lost out to “a person with far less experience and under the age of 45.”

She says she was replaced in her position by the new appointee and demoted to assistant secretary/treasurer, a position that previously had not existed.

“The plaintiff … in her demoted position was denied access to the necessary documents, both hard-copy (and) computerized, to work productively in her position and carry out her job duties, all of which was designed to harass the plaintiff and cause a hostile environment,” the suit says.

Sunderman believes her termination was a direct result of making formal complaints about the situation. She says the harassment against her included being prevented from picking up the borough’s mail, being reprimanded for leaving work for a family emergency and being denied any wage increase after January 2007 while others got raises.

On June 3, 2009, Sunderman was transferred to the water and sewer office without explanation and “given menial tasks such as providing forms to residents and receipting utility bills.”

• Sunderman claims wrongful termination. On June 13, 2009, less than 20 days after filing a complaint, Sunderman was told she was permanently laid off, the suit says. Five days later, she received correspondence dated June 16, 2009, saying that her position was eliminated.

• Sunderman claims political retaliation. She says she “was threatened by political retaliation” after filing complaints with the borough solicitor. Her suit does not say by whom she was threatened.

In its response, the borough denies any improper actions, says Sunderman failed to exhaust all administrative remedies and that her suit lacks evidence of the borough even being aware of “her alleged verbal complaint of discrimination or harassment.”

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