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Salem man sues PennDOT over firing

Renatta Signorini
| Tuesday, July 5, 2016, 11:00 p.m.

A Westmoreland County man is claiming in a federal lawsuit that defending a co-worker — who allegedly was the target of racial epithets and comments — resulted in his termination in August 2014.

Nicholas Carpellotti of Salem claims in the lawsuit that state Department of Transportation officials retaliated against him because he confronted co-workers and managers who made racist comments that were directed at another PennDOT employee. Carpellotti was working as a transportation equipment operator at the agency's stockpile in Adamsburg, according to the suit.

“Mr. Carpellotti's willingness to confront those exhibiting racism in the workplace created resentment against him by a number of managerial personnel and co-workers,” the suit states.

Named as defendants are PennDOT; agency secretary Leslie S. Richards; District 12 executive Joseph Szczur; assistant district executive Ron Clark; maintenance manager Tim Cook; director of human resources Sherri Norris; and human resources officer Marcia Harrer. A PennDOT spokeswoman said Tuesday that the agency doesn't discuss personnel or litigation matters.

The suit alleges there was “systemic racism” in District 12, which covers Washington, Westmoreland, Greene and Fayette counties. Between 2010 and 2014, Carpellotti, who is white, “expressed his opposition to the use of racial epithets” when his co-workers talked about a black employee, according to the lawsuit.

“He thinks everybody should have” stood up for that employee, attorney Jon Pushinsky said. “Racism does not belong in the worksite. ... This is a matter of public concern.”

In 2011, Carpellotti told his co-worker about the derogatory language that was used when he wasn't around. Carpellotti said, as a result of sharing that information, he was physically threatened and falsely accused of threatening a manager, according to the suit.

It takes a lot of courage to stand up to those in power, especially when a person would not directly benefit from the end result, said James Huguley, assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Center on Race and Social Problems.

“We all have to be participants in the fight against injustice,” Huguley said. “Everyone has a role — that means standing up for other people.”

Carpellotti was suspended, then terminated in August 2014 after he questioned management practices related to racial bias during a safety forum for Westmoreland County PennDOT employees, according to the lawsuit.

In the suit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Carpellotti is seeking to be reinstated to his position and have the disciplinary actions against him purged from his work record. He also is seeking unspecified compensation.

Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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