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Dispute delays settlement of former Pittsburgh woman's lawsuit against turnpike commission

| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission agreed to a $190,000 settlement with a former Pittsburgh woman who contended she was fired for testifying before a grand jury investigating turnpike corruption, court documents say.

But a disagreement over how the money would be paid to former city council staffer Eileen Conroy has, at least for now, derailed a final settlement.

Conroy's attorney, Ron Barber of the Downtown firm of Strassburger McKenna Gutnick and Gefsky, filed a motion on Tuesday asking a federal court to enforce the settlement agreement.

In the document, Barber said the Turnpike Commission on several occasions agreed to pay $190,000 in “one aggregate settlement amount.” It subsequently said Conroy would get $42,000 and Barber's firm would get $148,000.

“My fees are not anywhere near that large,” said Barber, declining further comment until an agreement is final.

Carl DeFebo, a turnpike spokesman, said the agency would not comment on pending litigation.

It was unclear why the Turnpike Commission tried to make the settlement for Conroy appear smaller.

Conroy, a former administrative secretary at the agency, was scheduled for trial April 2. On March 13, Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced grand jury presentments against the turnpike, alleging a “pay to play” scheme and a conspiracy to rig contracts among top agency officials, consultants and a former legislative leader. Kane charged eight people with crimes.

By late March, settlement talks were under way in Conroy's case.

Conroy filed a wrongful termination suit in 2010. Part of her lawsuit contended she was denied a promotion and that turnpike officials conspired to violate her rights. In September 2012, the court dismissed those claims but left intact the illegal firing complaint.

The turnpike insisted on an “extensive confidentiality provision,” which was “inconsistent with Pennsylvania law” on public agency settlement agreements, Barber argued.

Conroy now lives in the Harrisburg area. Barber has declined to allow her to be interviewed.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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