SCRANTON – The wrongful termination case of Luzerne County’s former Human Resources Director, whose federal causes of action were dismissed by a federal judge in March and failed to be reconsidered in May, will now have its state law-based charges heard in a Lackawanna County court.
On June 20, Donna Davis Javitz’s case versus Luzerne County, its County Manager Robert Lawton and its Division Head for Administrative Services David Parsnik appeared on the docket for the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas, for consideration of whether the defendants violated Luzerne County’s personnel code, ethics code and Home Rule Charter, in addition to the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Act.
According to the litigation, Davis Javitz was hired by Luzerne County as its Human Resources Director in August 2014 at an annual salary of $55,000 and terminated just over one year later, by Parsnik and then-County Solicitor (now County Manager) C. David Pedri in October 2015.
That December, Davis Javitz sued Luzerne County for wrongful termination, claiming her firing was a retaliatory measure on the part of the county for requesting a criminal investigation be opened by the county’s District Attorney, Stefanie Salavantis, into charges of union leaders who allegedly violated the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act by recording Davis Javitz without her permission.
The county and administrative defendants denied any retaliatory measures were taken in response to the plaintiff’s request for investigation by Salavantis’s office.
Due to not being provided with a formal hearing prior to her termination, Davis Javitz’s lawsuit contained claims of violation of her rights under the federal Due Process Clause and First and Fourteenth Amendments. It also contained allegations of breach of contract related to violation of Luzerne County’s personnel code, ethics code and Home Rule Charter, violation of the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Act and wrongful termination in violation of public policy.
Furthermore, Davis Javitz sought back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and costs, punitive damages and all other relief the Court deemed equitable, just and appropriate under the circumstances, in addition to a trial by jury.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Mariani granted a summary judgment motion from Luzerne County on March 29, ruling Davis Javitz was an “at-will” employee, meaning she could be terminated at any time, per the terms of her employment agreement. As such, Mariani found that “at-will” status superseded the county codes and Home Rule Charter, thus negating any due process violations.
Additionally, Mariani decided Davis Javitz’s report to Salavantis and the discussions surrounding it, which she claimed were illegally-recorded, were made in her official role as Human Resources Director, rather than as a private citizen. Per applicable law, a public employee’s speech only receives First Amendment shielding if they spoke as a citizen, it was connected to a matter which concerned the general public and the person’s employer didn’t have a reason for treating them differently than someone from the general public.
According to Mariani, that was not the case in this matter.
Davis Javitz filed a motion for reconsideration on the dismissal of the federal claims on April 6, but Mariani denied it on May 24.
Davis Javitz is currently appealing the dismissal of the federal claims and Mariani's subsequent denial of her motion for reconsideration to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Per the terms of Mariani’s dismissal, the state law-based allegations were explicitly dismissed without prejudice and Davis Javitz was permitted to continue pursuing them, leading to the instant litigation centered on those specific charges making its way to the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas on June 20.
The plaintiff is represented by Curt M. Parkins and Matthew Thomas Comerford of Comerford Law, in Scranton.
The defendant is represented by John G. Dean and Mark W. Bufalino of Elliott Greenleaf, in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.
Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas case 2018-3353
U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania case 3:15-cv-02443
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org