Verdicts & Settlements

Jury Finds Parks Employee Was Fired In Retaliation

Murray v. County of Montgomery $750,000 Verdict

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verdicts and settlements

Date of Verdict: Sept. 13.

Court and Case No.: U.S. District Court, E.D. Pa. 11-CV-0107.

Judge: Jan DuBois.

Type of Action: Retaliation.

Injuries: Pain and suffering; emotional distress; loss of earnings.

Plaintiffs Counsel: Marc E. Weinstein, The Weinstein Law Firm, Trevose, Pa.; Ralph E. Lamar, The Law Office of Ralph Lamar, Arvada, Colo.

Defense Counsel: Joseph J. Santarone Jr. and Christopher P. Boyle, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, King of Prussia, Pa.

Comment: In March 2008, plaintiff Pamela Ann Murray, a park ranger employed by Montgomery County, was fired from her position in the Montgomery County Parks Department. Murray alleged that a co-worker made derisive comments about her gender, and that after the co-worker was promoted above her, she was fired in retaliation for her complaints.

Murray sued Montgomery County, alleging that the county violated Title VII of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

According to the plaintiff's amended complaint, Murray contended that in 2007 her co-worker had scheduled several meetings without consulting her, which made her late on several occasions. She contended that the co-worker, who was a proponent of allowing rangers to carry firearms, told her that she did not "understand carrying weapons because she was female," made derisive comments regarding hunting licenses and asked her if she knew what it was like to carry and shoot a firearm during a meeting where she was the only female.

Murray contended, in the amended complaint, that on Jan. 25, 2007, she reported to her supervisor that she was concerned with the co-worker's behavior. On Feb. 1, 2007, the supervisor held a meeting with the co-worker and Murray. Murray contended that the meeting became heated, and the supervisor denied her request to meet with him individually, telling her that she was "getting emotional."

Murray contended that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission representative told her that nothing could be done in response to the complaint and that written complaints can make situations worse. Murray contended that during a March 5, 2007, meeting with the EEOC director, she was given a verbal reprimand, her amended complaint said.

Murray contended that after her co-worker was promoted above her in January 2008, he interfered with setting her office up with operational computers, which caused her to not have the Internet and to miss several work-related emails.

Murray also contended that she made another complaint to her supervisor regarding her co-worker's conduct regarding a maintenance worker at her facility while she was taking a personal day. She contended that on Feb. 26, 2008, the co-worker screamed at her regarding her complaint, and said "you work for me," "you don't tell me how to do my job," "you are going to learn what I say goes," and "it is a new day, I am in charge."

According to the plaintiff's amended complaint, Murray also argued that she was a good employee and that she had only been terminated in retaliation for her complaint against her co-worker. She noted that in March 2008 she was promoted to regional manager.

The county denied Murray was terminated in retaliation for her complaint, and argued that she was fired due to problems with her conduct.

According to the defendant's amended pretrial memorandum, the county contended that Murray referred to her new bosses as "unqualified," referred to the supervisor as lacking "balls" and leadership qualities, and was frequently late to meetings. The county further contended that she was hostile to supervisors in front of subordinates.

The county contended that the supervisor who had promoted her had made the decision to fire her, and argued that none of the three immediate superiors who voted to terminate her were aware of the gender-biased comments the co-worker allegedly made,

The county contended that Murray was given a laptop to accommodate her computer problems, and argued that she never opened the computer. The county contended that she demanded that a $10,000 Internet connection be installed, and that the county was in the process of accommodating her request when she was terminated.

The county further contended in its amended pretrial memo that the plaintiff failed to prove her case. The county denied that the comments were derisive, or based on the plaintiff's gender, and noted that Murray alleged that there was only one incident of derisive, gender-based comments being made. The county also noted that Murray was terminated 11 months after the allegedly biased comments were made, and argued that there was no indication that the events were causally related.

Murray sought recovery for past and future pain and suffering from emotional distress, as well as past and future lost wages and benefits. She also sought punitive damages.

Murray was earning $67,000 at the time of her termination.

The jury found for the plaintiff, and awarded Murray $750,000. The jury did not rule on any amounts that Murray would be awarded for front or back pay, and did not rule on whether or not she would be reinstated in the position. The parties subsequently settled for an undisclosed amount, and Murray was reinstated.

Counsel for the defense declined to comment for this report.

Max Mitchell, of the Law Weekly •

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