Fired municipal employees file civil suit against Penn Hills, municipal manager
Two former Penn Hills employees who filed an unfair labor practice charge against the municipality last year have taken their grievance to U.S. District Court.
Former code enforcement employees Mary Lou Flinn and Joseph Probo, who are still awaiting a ruling from the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board regarding their February 2012 complaint, filed a lawsuit against the municipality and municipal manager Mohammed Rayan on Jan. 7.
Flinn and Probo were fired in January 2012 for violating the municipality's residency requirement for employees, but they say that municipal officials were aware of their residency status — according to court records, both lease living quarters in Penn Hills but spend much of their time at addresses in Monroeville, Flinn at her daughter's home and Probo at property his wife owns — and that they were fired in retaliation for filing a labor complaint against the municipality through their union, the Municipal Employees Organization of Penn Hills.
Attorneys for Flinn and Probo pointed to ambiguous language in the collectively-bargained residency requirement, which states that municipal employees must “live” in the municipality. The policy, which has remained unchanged since the 1980s, does not include a definition of what it means to “live” in the municipality.
The lawsuit claims that Flinn and Probo had in the past provided lease agreements, income tax payment receipts, voter registrations, driver's licenses and vehicle registrations and were never questioned about their residency status until 2009, when the municipality sent letters to a group of police officers and municipal employees asking them to provide residency documentation in the form of “a utility bill, property tax bill or property deed.”
The lawsuit levels three counts against both Rayan individually and the municipality as a whole: 1) that Flinn and Probo's right to due process and a pre-termination hearing was violated, 2) that their right to equal protection was violated, and 3) that their termination was the result of free speech retaliation (for the filing of the initial labor grievance) on the part of Rayan and the municipality.
Flinn and Probo are seeking full reinstatement or front pay, back pay and damages to compensate for their lost employment benefits, compensatory, economic/non-economic and damages, pre-judgment interest, punitive damages against Rayan, attorney's fees and costs.
Rayan said he did not wish to comment on the lawsuit.
Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.