A former adult probation officer in Delaware County has filed a civil suit
over allegations that she was fired from her job of three years because she informed her bosses she would need to take a leave of absence due to her pregnancy.
Alana Porter, who was hired as a probation officer for the county in March 2009, claims she was told she was being terminated in the spring of 2012 due to performance deficiencies but she contends she was actually fired because she needed to take time off to have her baby.
Porter had notified her superiors in March 2011 that she was going to need time off after the delivery of her child.
It was not long after this that a supervisor identified in the complaint as Chris Pawlowski, who is not a party to the litigation, called the plaintiff into a meeting to discuss alleged performance deficiencies, the lawsuit states.
The meeting request was the first time any issues or concerns regarding Porter’s performance had been raised, the complaint states.
Porter claims that during that meeting, she was “unfairly and discriminatorily” reprimanded for cases that had been closed because the records were lost in a building fire in April 2010, after which another supervisor threatened to formally discipline the plaintiff for the loss and closure of the cases.
“The performance issues raised in Pawlowski’s meeting were clearly bogus and pretextual,” reads the complaint, which was filed on March 11 in federal court in Philadelphia by attorneys Yvonne Barnes Montgomery and Kathleen Kirkpatrick, of the Tucker Law Group in Philadelphia.
Porter eventually took pregnancy leave in October 2011, the record shows.
When she returned to work in March 2012, Porter was presented with a packet of alleged performance issues, including printouts of the woman’s Facebook page and a list of issues in 24 of her work cases that had occurred throughout a three-year period, as well as copies of forms and policies used by the department, the lawsuit states.
A probation department employee subsequently told Porter he was not surprised that the meeting had been scheduled because Porter’s coworkers had been instructed to review her cases and find any issues or concerns arising from Porter’s leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the lawsuit alleges.
The employee even told Porter that the coworkers had been paid overtime for the hours they spent “scouring” Porter’s files while she was away on leave in an attempt to uncover anything that could be used in an attempt to justify the defendant’s “unlawful termination,” the complaint states.
During the March 13 meeting, supervisors highlighted issues dating back three years, many of which Porter says were minor and involved issues that were out of her control.
The supervisors specifically singled out Porter’s Facebook posts, which were apparently in violation of company policy.
Porter was ultimately told she was being terminated for the alleged performance deficiencies discussed during the termination meeting.
“Defendant never questioned, warned, or even notified Plaintiff regarding the alleged performance deficiencies problems prior to Plaintiff’s FMLA requests until the Termination Meeting,” the lawsuit states.
Porter claims that at the end of the meeting, she was given the opportunity to either resign that day, be terminated and initiate a grievance through her union, or be terminated and not initiate a grievance, and the defendant would not contest the plaintiff’s claim for unemployment compensation benefits, according to the complaint.
She opted for the third choice because, as her suit states, she had a newborn baby and no other source of income.
The defendant, however, ended up contesting Porter’s claim for unemployment compensation after all, the suit says.
“Defendant therefore knowingly and intentionally left Plaintiff both without an opportunity to grieve and without unemployment compensation benefits,” the complaint reads.
Porter claims her gender, pregnancy and FMLA requests were “determinative factors” in the county’s decision to terminate her employment.
She alleges to have suffered from embarrassment, emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation, loss of self-esteem and financial hardship.
The defendant is accused of violating the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Civil Rights Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.
Porter seeks injunctive relief as well as damages for mental anguish, back and front pay, punitive damages and legal fees.
The federal case number is 2:14-cv-01432-LDD.