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Westmoreland

Westmoreland municipal authority sued by former employee

Rich Cholodofsky
| Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, 5:03 p.m.

A former service technician in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County claims he was disciplined and eventually fired because of his race.

Walter Dennison, in documents filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, contends he was the only black person among 18 technicians employed by the water and sewer utility and was treated more harshly by management than his white colleagues.

In the lawsuit, Dennison contends he was improperly suspended for poor work performance, an allegation he says is “materially false.”

“After his return to work, plaintiff was assigned substantially more regularly scheduled ... work than defendant's Caucasian service technicians. Plaintiff's assignments included work orders for jobs in unsafe conditions, jobs to be completed in poor weather, and jobs to be completed after normal business hours,” Dennison claims.

He accuses officials of reprimanding him for false accusations, including using a company-issued cellphone to call an escort service and visiting a massage parlor during work hours.

According to the lawsuit, Dennison claims he was suspended in early 2017 and filed a discrimination complaint against the authority in April. He was fired five days later in retaliation for his complaint, he claims in the lawsuit.

Authority solicitor Scott Avolio said Tuesday that the authority's policy is to make no public comment on personnel and legal issues.

According to a report obtained by the Tribune-Review on Dennison's union hearing — he successfully challenged the first attempt to fire him — an independent arbiter ruled there was no evidence to support the allegation that the authority's actions were motivated by racial animus but upheld his suspension based on a long disciplinary record.

Following that arbitration, Dennison returned to work in November. Three days later, he was off the job and on disability for what he described in the lawsuit as “mental anguish” related to his work environment.

Dennison is seeking compensatory and punitive damages and a judgment against the authority that its actions were unlawful.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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