Share This Page

Judge overrules several Allegheny County objections over late health director's lawsuit

| Friday, April 4, 2014, 5:21 p.m.

A wrongful termination lawsuit filed by the late director of the Allegheny County Health Department will move forward despite his death, a county judge ordered on Friday.

Common Pleas Judge Christine A. Ward overruled eight county objections to the lawsuit filed by longtime health director Bruce Dixon against the county, the Health Department, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and council members in April 2012, a month after he was fired. Dixon, 74, died in February 2013.

Among the objections that Ward overruled was a county claim that Dixon did not have standing to sue.

County spokeswoman Amie Downs declined to comment.

“This case has huge implications, huge implications,” said Dixon's attorney, Virginia Cook. “It means that just because Dixon died doesn't mean that it's all over.”

Dixon, who served as director for 20 years, said his firing was politically motivated. The lawsuit contends the county executive can appoint members and approve regulations of the health department but does not have the authority to fire its director because it is an independent agency. Fitzgerald threatened to remove board members who did not vote to do so, the lawsuit says.

Cook said the lawsuit, in part, calls into question the legality of county boards and authorities whose members submitted resignation letters to Fitzgerald. Cook said members traded those letters for nominations to boards and authorities in an illegal quid-pro-quo move.

A ruling in their favor could nullify votes taken by the board of health, the airport authority and the Port Authority, Cook said, and potentially remove board members from their posts. “The sad part is that Dr. Dixon isn't alive to see this,” she said.

The county has 20 days to respond to the judge's ruling. Cook said she will start scheduling depositions with board members and county employees.

Adam Brandolph and Aaron Aupperlee are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Brandolph can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com. Aupperlee can be reached at 412-320-7986 or aaupperlee@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.