PHILADELPHIA—The former road master of Pocono Township is suing the community for discontinuing his employment, alleging violation of his right to free speech.
Harold Werkheiser filed a federal claim on Jan. 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against Pocono Township, alleging violations of the First Amendment Free Speech and Petition Clauses resulted in wrongful termination.
On Jan. 6, 2014, the township commissioners of Pocono Township allegedly refused to continue employing Werkheiser after 19 years of paid service, the suit states. Werkheiser served for nearly 13 years as a road crew worker until November 2007, when he was elected to a six-year term as a supervisor of the Pocono Township Board of Supervisors. At the time, Pocono was a second-class township with only three supervisors on the board.
In 2008, Werkheiser was appointed township roadmaster and was reappointed every year through 2012. The plaintiff served on the board with two other supervisors who, on Jan. 7, 2013, did not reappoint Werkheiser as roadmaster. After he was not reappointed, the plaintiff filed a claim in April 2013 in the Court of Common Pleas in Monroe County against Pocono Township and two members of the board of supervisors. After the defendant removed the claim to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Werkheiser filed an amended complaint in May 2013.
The plaintiff was re-elected as a supervisor on Nov. 5, 2013 at the same time voters elected to elevate Pocono to a first-class township, requiring five supervisors on the board. Werkheiser alleges that on Jan. 9, 2014, the commissioners held a special meeting focusing on his aforementioned legal action and that they were acting in violation of his First Amendment-protected actions when he was not reappointed. He claims the legal action is itself protected speech on a matter of public concern and that the commissioners cited the legal action as reason to discontinue the plaintiff’s employment.
Werkheiser seeks compensatory damages, interest and inductive relief. He is represented by Cletus P. Lyman, Michael S. Fettner and Michael T. Sweeney of Lyman & Ash in Philadelphia.
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Case number 3:16-cv-00015-ARC