Former SEPTA bus operator sues over alleged wrongful termination

Jon Campisi Nov. 7, 2011, 3:11pm

A former bus driver for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is suing the state agency in federal court amidst allegations of gender discrimination.

Philadelphia resident Christine S. Smith, who was first hired as a SEPTA bus operator on Nov. 23, 1996, was fired from her job on May 18, 2010, after her superiors alleged she had become involved a vehicle accident while on duty, but left the scene before the accident could be reported to authorities and SEPTA officials.

In her complaint against the regional transit authority, which was filed Nov. 2 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Philadelphia attorney Olugbenga O. Abiona, Smith claims that the damage to the bus had actually been done sometime prior to her shift.

On April 20, 2010, the suit claims, Smith reported to her assigned bus for the day, which had previously been driven by SEPTA employee David Jones.

Against company protocol, Jones was not with the bus when Smith arrived to take over his duties. SEPTA rules require that a bus operator handing over the bus to another driver must be present at the time of the switch, and both must jointly conduct an inspection of the vehicle before it can get back on the road, the suit states.

“Jones’ failure to be present and leaving the bus unattended when Plaintiff reported to relieve him was a violation of SEPTA’s work rules, but Jones was not subjected to any disciplinary action for violating this rule,” the lawsuit states.

Smith conducted her own pre-trip inspection of the bus, discovering the vehicle had damage. She claims she reported her findings to higher-ups.

After the completion of her run, the lawsuit states, Smith handed off operation of the bus to another driver, Willie Jenkins. Smith made Jenkins aware of the damage that she contended was done before she ever got into the bus. Jenkins took note of the damage and went on his run.

In mid May last year, SEPTA terminated Smith’s employment based on the “false charges” that Smith had been involved in a vehicle accident and subsequently left the scene of the accident.

“These allegations against Plaintiff are false,” the lawsuit states. “At no time was Plaintiff ever involved in an accident with the bus, nor did she leave the scene of an accident nor did she fail to report an accident.”

Beth Jones, the driver who had the bus in his possession prior to Smith, and Jenkins, the driver who took over for Smith, were never terminated or disciplined, the suit states.

“SEPTA subjected Plaintiff to a discriminatory application of its work rules and disciplinary policy because of her gender,” the lawsuit claims.

Through her lawsuit, Smith seeks judgment in the form of back pay, front pay, pre and post-judgment interest, attorney’s fees, compensatory damages in excess of $100,000, expert witness fees and other court relief deemed appropriate by the court.

Smith also seeks job reinstatement.

A jury trial has been demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-06871-JCJ.

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