Westmoreland Sheriff Jonathan Held named in Marine reservist's lawsuit
A Marine Corps military policeman working as a part-time deputy in the Westmoreland County Sheriff's Office filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming he was routinely passed over for promotions because of his service commitments.
Jonathon Sutton, 28, of Greensburg filed the claim Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh against Sheriff Jonathan Held and Westmoreland County in a two-count lawsuit.
“It is always unfortunate when our service members are discriminated against,” said attorney Alec Wright of the law office of Timothy P. O'Brien. “It is even more unfortunate when that discrimination comes from offices and individuals who should be honoring those individuals for serving our country, not discriminating against them.”
Sutton is a reservist with the Marine Corps and serves as sergeant with military police in the 4th Law Enforcement Battalion at MP Company B in North Versailles.
According to his lawsuit, he was hired as a part-time deputy sheriff in 2015. Sutton claims he was passed over for promotions to full-time status and leadership posts starting in 2016.
As he was denied promotions, Held elevated at least 12 staffers, including a secretary, to full-time deputy positions. None of those promoted are active reservists or current military members, Sutton claims in the lawsuit.
Held denied the allegations Wednesday afternoon in a statement emailed to the Tribune-Review.
“Once again, we do not discriminate against anyone for any reason in the sheriff's office. This claim is especially atrocious because my grandfather was a World War II veteran. We have over 10 active military personnel and veterans employed in this office. The facts of this case will come out, and in the end, it will prove to be just another piece to a political witch hunt,” Held wrote.
Sutton, who continues to work as a part-time deputy sheriff, is seeking compensatory and punitive damages against Held and Westmoreland County.
Since Held took office in January 2012, the two-term Republican has been besieged with lawsuits filed by current and former sheriff's department staffers who claimed they were discriminated against because of their age, gender or political beliefs.
Westmoreland County has settled about a half-dozen lawsuits against Held, agreeing to pay out more than $100,000 to end those cases.
Held, 43, of Hempfield was charged last month by the state Attorney General's Office with three criminal offenses alleging he forced his staff to perform political activity on his behalf while on duty.
Held is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon before Greensburg District Justice Chris Flanigan on two misdemeanor theft charges and one felony offense of conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, the county commissioners have launched two additional probes related to the sheriff's office, including claims of racial discrimination brought by three unsuccessful job applicants who contend they were denied jobs in the department because they are black.
Commissioners hired two private law firms to conduct that investigation and another into allegations raised by Chief Deputy Patricia Fritz, who contends that during the county's racial discrimination investigation she was harassed and improperly touched by an assistant county solicitor.
Fritz, 63, of Mt. Pleasant took a leave of absence last month after raising the harassment allegation.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.