Allentown officials accused of sexual discrimination during eminent domain proceedings

By Jim Boyle | Jul 7, 2014

The owner of a Lehigh County contracting company seeks more than $1 million in relief from the city of Allentown and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, claiming sexual discrimination prevented her from receiving fair market value when her Allentown office was acquired through eminent domain, according to a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Laurie Atiyeh, owner and operator of Lehigh Valley Properties (LVP), alleges that the mayor of Allentown and other city officials treated her differently than other business owners who successfully reached settlements for the acquisition of their land for the construction of the American Parkway Extension, a highway project that will connect Allentown to Route 22 via a new bridge over the Lehigh River.

Starting in February 2011, as government officials began acquiring the land necessary to begin the project, Atiyeh attempted several times to notify Allentown's city engineer Richard Young to discuss her business property located on Ivy Street. She claims that none of her attempts received replies.

On Aug. 3, 2011, Allentown Mayor Edward Powlaski authorized the condemnation of the building, an action Atiyeh opposed by filing for bankruptcy in federal court, the suit says.

According to the complaint, at the same time city officials allegedly ignored Atiyeh's attempts to communicate, they met with the owners of a church across the street and negotiated a settlement of $290,000 for a quarter of an acre of land.

In August 2012, Atiyeh's attorney, Nicholas Sabatine III, sent a letter to the city  administration estimating the cost of acquiring the LVP site at $1,116,500, including $840,000 for the one-and-a-half acre land, $330,000 for moving expenses, $12,000 to re-establish the business, $60,000 for lost net earnings during relocation, $4,000 for appraisal fees and $500 for searching for a new location.

According to the complaint, the city's own appraisal valued the land at $104,000. Atiyeh claims the reason for the disparity is her gender. She also claims gender played a role in the city's refusal to sell her mulch and compost in May 2014, even though the material was open to other business owners and residents for purchase.

Atiyeh has also been ordered to indemnify the city while she continued LVP's operations after receiving the condemnation notice, a requirement that no other businesses needed, the suit says.

While she seeks a fair settlement from Allentown and PennDOT, Atiyeh also wants to keep LVP up and running. If the property is taken into actual possession, it would essentially force her to cease operations, the complaint says. Despite her attempts to maintain the company, the costly disputes have forced Atiyeh to turn down contracts. She claims the discriminatory actions have essentially put her out of business.

The plaintiff is represented by Everett Cook of Whitehall, Pa.

The federal case ID number is 5:14-cv-04091-JLS.

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