HARRISBURG – The Commonwealth Court ruled for a former Towamencin fire marshal Kevin Pezzano suing the township, overruling an earlier decision by the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County.
Pezzano was an employee of the township as a fire marshal, code enforcement officer and emergency management coordinator. In November 2012, he was told he was being terminated because the township no longer needed a full-time fire marshal. Both parties entered a confidential employee separation agreement on Jan. 14, 2013.
The confidentiality agreement stipulated that all parties agreed to refrain from disparaging each other. But two days later, Towamencin supervisors David Mosesso and Harold Wilson gave statements to the media saying that Pezzano was "dismissed for cause."
Because of this, Pezzano and his wife filed a lawsuit against Mosesso and Wilson alleging defamation, invasion of privacy, fraud and loss of consortium, while asserting a breach of contract claim against the township.
Pezzano says that the defendants had no intention of following the confidentiality agreement, considering how quickly they went to the media to give a statement. Mosesso, Wilson and the township all filed preliminary objections.
However, his claims were dismissed, leading him to file another breach of contract claim against the township. The trial court found that the township did not "disparage" Pezzano to the media.
Pezzano appealed, saying the township could only act through its officers.
The Commonwealth Court agreed with his argument.
"Our decision should not be read as a limitation of a public official’s rights of free speech or his/her duty to keep the electorate informed," it wrote.
"Rather, a Township is liable for its contractual obligations and... vicariously liable for the breach of such obligations by its agents."