U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Carlson has issued a recommendation siding with Luzerne County in litigation filed by former deputy budget/finance director Donna Magni, county Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo informed county council Tuesday.
“I am pleased to share great news today,” Crocamo wrote, commending attorneys Mark Bufalino and Jack Dean, of Elliot Greenleaf & Dean, for their work on the case.
Crocamo said both sides agreed to seek a recommendation from Carlson, which is a common process in federal court. It would be “very rare” for a federal judge to reject a magistrate recommendation, she said.
U.S. Judge Robert D. Mariani is presiding over the case.
According to Carlson’s report and recommendation:
In her two remaining claims against Budget/Finance Division Head Brian Swetz and former Manager Robert Lawton, Magni alleged the men terminated her in January 2014 in retaliation for her statements months earlier to county council regarding a $15 million budget shortfall.
Magni also claimed her termination could only be for cause under the county’s home rule charter and personnel code, and that this right was violated when she was fired without due process or a cited reason.
But the defendants asserted her termination stemmed from W-2s containing serious mistakes and other payroll system issues for which she was ultimately responsible. They also argued Magni was an at-will or “exempt” employee who could be terminated at the pleasure of her employer with no notice or opportunity to be heard.
Carlson agreed with the defendants that Magni “was not entitled to the due process she claims.”
If accepted by the judge, Carlson’s recommendation to grant summary judgment means the county would prevail now and not proceed to trial, Crocamo said.
Attorney Michael D. Yelen, who is representing Magni, said the decision on whether to accept the recommendation is up to the judge, and he won’t speak for him.
Yelen said the suit argued Magni was fired for being “brutally honest with the taxpayers,” and he did not believe all legal issues in the case have been addressed.
“I expect we will take issue with the recommendation and will further challenge it,” he said.
Crocamo said she does not believe Magni would be successful on appeal because Carlson’s 40-page report is “thorough and well-reasoned” and contains detailed analysis of the county’s home rule charter, personnel code and state law.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.