Federal judge dismisses ex-Luzerne County HR director’s wrongful termination suit

By Roger DuPuis - [email protected]
Parsnik -
Pedri -

WILKES-BARRE — A former human resources director’s wrongful termination lawsuit against Luzerne County has been dismissed by a federal judge.

Donna Davis Javitz was hired for the position in August 2014 at a salary of $55,000, and terminated in October 2015. She sued the county in December of that year.

Davis Javitz, an attorney, alleged her termination was in retaliation for her attempts to request a criminal investigation by District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis’ office into union officials whom she claimed illegally recorded her conversations.

In an opinion filed Thursday, U.S. District Judge Robert D. Mariani ruled in favor of the county, granting its motion for summary judgment and closing the case.

“I am able to share great news today,” chief county solicitor Romilda Crocamo wrote in an email Thursday to county council members and county manager C. David Pedri. “The Donna Davis Javitz v. Luzerne County case was dismissed and Judgment was entered in favor of Luzerne County.”

“Attorney Jack Dean, from Elliott Greenleaf & Dean, should be commended for his work on this case as well,” Crocamo added.

A telephone number belonging to Davis Javitz was no longer in service Thursday. Efforts to reach her by email were not immediately successful.

In her suit, Davis Javitz contended that her termination violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because she was not afforded a pre-termination hearing.

As described in the judge’s opinion:

Davis Javitz believed that Administrative Services Division Head David Parsnik engaged in actions that were taken in retaliation for her report to Salavantis, including being denied access to filing cabinets; being directed to do things that were not previously part of her job, such as filing; and being rude to her.

County officials denied that any actions were taken in retaliation for Davis Javitz’s report to the DA.

On Oct. 26, 2015, Davis Javitz was called into a meeting with Parsnik and Pedri, who was then chief solicitor, and informed that it would be her last day of work.

Parsnik offered to let Davis Javitz resign, but she refused. She then asked for a Loudermill hearing, which is a formal procedure used by public employers when employees face termination or suspension. She was told she could not have one, and was then informed by Parsnik that she had to leave. She was not given a reason for her termination.

In his ruling, Mariani found that Davis Javitz was “unambiguously” an at-will employee, per the terms of an employment offer she signed. Nothing in the county’s Home Rule Charter or personnel code would change that status, he added, so there was no due process violation.

Davis Javitz also contended that she was fired in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights, primarily in her report to DA Salavantis regarding allegations of illegal recordings by union officials.

Mariani wrote that the discussions in question were conducted by Davis Javitz in her official capacity. A public employee’s speech is only protected by the First Amendment if he or she spoke as a citizen, if it involved a matter of public concern and if the employer lacked adequate justification for treating the employee differently than a member of the general public.

Those conditions did not apply in Davis Javitz’s case, the judge determined.

Davis Javitz also has separate pending litigation against the Times Leader, which she has accused of libel in connection with coverage related to her. She also has a case pending against Paula Schnelly, head of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, which represents hundreds of county workers.

Parsnik
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/web1_TTL011416Parsnik1.jpgParsnik

Pedri
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/web1_DavePedri-3.jpgPedri

By Roger DuPuis

[email protected]