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Judge rejects Vecchio lawsuit

| Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010

A Penn Hills woman's sole evidence that she was fired from a state job in retaliation for her grand jury testimony is her and her husband's recollection of a phone conversation that "raises no more than some metaphysical doubt, and not a genuine issue of material fact," a federal judge ruled Friday in dismissing her lawsuit.

Erin Vecchio, a longtime Democratic activist and former Penn Hills School Board member, claimed in the federal lawsuit that Rep. Tony DeLuca orchestrated her Aug. 28 firing from the state Department of Revenue because she testified about him during a state grand jury investigation.

DeLuca, a Penn Hills Democrat, and former state Revenue Secretary Stephen Stetler denied Vecchio's allegation.

Vecchio and DeLuca declined comment.

Brian Gabriel, attorney for Stetler, said his client agrees with the judge's analysis of the case.

"There's simply no evidence to support her claim against Mr. Stetler," Gabriel said.

U.S. District Judge Arthur Schwab said in the ruling that the evidence was clear that the state agency cut about 350 positions -- including 85 filled positions -- to trim its budget in 2009. DeLuca, Stetler and several witnesses consistently say that the legislator never told or urged Stetler to include Vecchio's managerial position in the cuts.

Vecchio initially claimed that DeLuca had conspired with Joe Brimmeier, chief executive officer of the state Turnpike Commission, to have her fired, the judge's ruling said. Brimmeier called Vecchio on Aug. 19, 2009, to deny he had anything to do with her removal.

Vecchio, seeing that the call was coming from the Turnpike Commission, put it on speaker so that her husband could listen in, the ruling said. She claimed that Brimmeier told her during the conversation that DeLuca had approached him to see if he would help retaliate against her and, after he refused, had gone to Stetler instead.

Brimmeier denied Vecchio's version of the conversation. Even her own testimony about the call shows it's more likely he was telling her that if DeLuca had orchestrated her firing, he would have had to do it through Stetler instead of Brimmeier, Schwab said.

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