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Pennsylvania Courthouse Workers Advance Sexual Harassment Suit

May 9, 2022, 4:08 PM

Schuylkill County, Pa., Commissioner George F. Halcovage Jr. (R) must face most of the claims by four female county courthouse employees over his alleged “abhorrent” sexual harassment, a federal judge ruled.

The harassment is alleged to have included sexual assaults of one of the women, Jane Doe 1, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania said. It also allegedly included sexist improper remarks, solicitations for sex, and intrusions into the women’s personal and family lives, including incessant calls outside working hours and appearing uninvited at their homes, the court said.

That’s enough to state plausible claims by all four women against Halcovage for hostile work environment harassment and sex discrimination under the equal protection clause, Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson said May 6.

Sexual assault is the most severe form of sexual harassment, the judge said. The alleged bias also detrimentally affected the four women and would have likely similarly affected a reasonable worker, Carlson said.

Doe 1 and Jane Doe 2 were forced to relocate to a different building, the judge said. And Jane Does 3 and 4 opted to work from home after they learned he had access to their workspace, Carlson said.

As a county commissioner, Halcovage was the women’s supervisor, establishing a basis for strict liability, the court said.

The women’s First Amendment retaliation claims are plausible because they allege a wave of adverse job actions following their complaints about him, which they ultimately had to take directly to human resources after other supervisors failed to act, the court said.

Though their complaints were internal, they still involved a matter of public concern because they’re relevant to the electorate’s evaluation of an elected official, Carlson said.

Their retaliation and aiding and abetting allegations under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act are plausible, but their PHRA discrimination claims failed because Halcovage can’t be sued on that basis as an individual, the judge said.

Does 1 and 2 can pursue intentional infliction of emotional distress claims, the court said.

The suit alleges “blatantly abhorrent conduct” that is extreme and outrageous enough to support such a claim, it said.

The court on May 5 allowed most of the women’s claims against the county and county administrator Gary Bender to go forward.

The U.S. Justice Department has moved to intervene in the case.

Derek Smith Law Group PLLC represents the women. Newman Williams PC represents Halcovage.

The case is Doe v. Schuylkill Cty. Courthouse, 2022 BL 158828, M.D. Pa., No. 3:21-cv-00477, 5/6/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Carmen Castro-Pagán at ccastro-pagan@bloomberglaw.com