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Allegheny

Former Westmoreland County HR director says commissioners' feud led to firing

Paul Peirce
| Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, 4:21 p.m.
Gina Cerilli
Gina Cerilli

Westmoreland County’s former human resources director alleges in a federal lawsuit that a political feud between Democratic commissioners Gina Cerilli and Ted Kopas led to his firing.

James A. Burgess filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, claiming he was unlawfully fired by Cerilli. In addition to Cerilli, Burgess names as defendants his former employer, Felice Associates of Greensburg, and the firm’s owner, John Felice.

In the 10-page lawsuit filed Friday, Burgess alleges he was told by Felice he was fired “as a direct result of the plaintiff’s perceived support for, and affiliation with, Commissioner Ted Kopas.”

Burgess also claimed in the lawsuit that the Felice contract with the county was terminated because he continued to investigate the county sheriff’s office and because Cerilli was angered that he did not support her political initiatives.

The lawsuit also states Burgess ran into the ire of Cerilli when filling numerous county employment positions.

At the time of his firing, Burgess was investigating the sheriff’s office warrant fee process at the request of Kopas, according to the lawsuit. Burgess alleges that Felice asked him to stop looking into that matter involving Sheriff Jonathan Held’s office because Felice and Held are friends.

Cerilli said she could not comment on pending litigation.

Kopas said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. He denied being at odds with Cerilli.

“I’m not aware of any rivalry between us. I will say that this (lawsuit) is just another strike against the Felice outsourcing contract that I have never agreed to validate,” Kopas said.

Felice Associates was hired in 2014 to provide human resource management for the county.

In March, Cerilli and Commissioner Charles Anderson voted to hire Felice Associates for $84,000 to oversee negotiations with county unions, oversee labor relations and support the new human resource staff.

Kopas voted against hiring Felice Associates in 2014 and again under a revised contract in March.

Felice said Monday he had not seen a copy of the complaint and could not comment.

Burgess contends in the lawsuit that Cerilli reprimanded him for “overstepping his authority” during a search this year for a county financial director. In the lawsuit, he said Cerilli was against rehiring Meghan McCandless to the post that pays $69,542 annually and which Kopas and Anderson supported.

Burgess says he was targeted for retaliation in violation of his constitutional rights. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-850-2860, ppeirce@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.

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