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Civil Rights Case Summaries

Sexual Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation

The City of Sunbury Police Department had 3 female employees: a Police Officer; Meter Person; and a Police Records Clerk. After the rank and file officers, a Police Sargent, and the Mayor began to subject the female officer to various forms of sexual harassment and unfair treatment simply because she was the only female Police Officer, the Chief of Police, Meter Person and Records Clerk came to her defense. After the Chief or Police retired all 3 female employees were subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination. The female police officer was suspended pending termination, the Records Clerk was terminated, and the Meter Person was forced to resign under duress. A Civil Rights Employment Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation Complaint was filed in Federal Court by Mike Zicolello of Schemery Zicolello. The claim of the female Police officer was settled prior to trial for $80,000 and the re-instatement of her employment (where she eventually reached the rank of Corporal). The claims of the Records Clerk and Meter Person went to trial and the Federal Jury returned a Verdict in favor of both awarding the Records Clerk $250,000 and the Meter Person $65,000.

Unlawful Seizure of Property

A husband and wife who were avid Little League pin collectors designed and produced a little league pin commemorating the Williamsport Police Department. Williamsport Police Captain Raymond Kontz III came to their home, threatened their arrest for producing and possessing the pins without the City's "approval", and confiscated the pins without a search warrant. The husband and wife tried to complain to the Mayor and Police Department in an effort to get their property back but were threatened by Captain Kontz that if they did not drop the matter, they would be charged with a felony. Mike Zicolello of Schemery Zicolello represented the couple in a Federal Civil Rights lawsuit against Captain Kontz. At trial, neither Captain Kontz nor Williamsport Mayor Gabriel Campana could explain why or how the City had the right to seize the couples' little league pins. Additionally, Captain Kontz was forced to acknowledge that he never logged the pins in to the Department's property room, instead keeping them in his possession. The Federal Jury found that Captain Kontz had violated the couples' Civil Rights and awarded them $14,553 in compensatory damages and $45,000 in punitive damages. The jury verdict was upheld by United States District Judge Matthew W. Brann who concluded jurors found Kontz "bullied a mild-mannered couple" into turning over the pins. While a petition for attorney fees and costs was pending, which are recoverable after a favorable civil rights verdict, the parties reached a settlement where the City of Williamsport's insurance company agreed to pay a total of $180,000.

Malicious Prosecution

Officer Brian Dixon charged Anthony Werman with attempted murder of a police officer when Dixon was responding to a domestic disturbance claiming that Werman attacked Dixon with a six inch Alaskan Ulu knife raised above his head while Dixon was attempting to enter the apartment to investigate. Sargent Gregory Neeper signed an affidavit swearing to the fact of the charges. Anthony Werman was incarcerated in the Clearfield County Jail for one month before being released on supervised bail. He remained on supervised bail for a little over one year while the attempted murder charges were still pending against him until the Clearfield County District Attorney stated that the interests of justice required that all of the charges filed against Werman be withdrawn. Although the District Attorney's Office and State Police did file criminal charges arising from the incident against Officer Dixon and Sargent Neeper, the charges were thrown out after a preliminary hearing before a District Justice with no real justification to do so. Searching for justice Werman hired Schemery Zicolello and Mike Zicolello filed an Eleven Count Complaint in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania asserting civil rights violations and other claims arising from the incident. During discovery in the case, the attorneys at Schemery Zicolello identified two officers, who were present at the scene, and who physically subdued Werman, who was intoxicated in his own apartment, and both indicated that neither ever saw a knife in the possession of Werman. Officer Dixon admitted that he did not yell "knife" at any point during the incident and did not caution the other officers that Werman had possession of a knife while they were attempting to place handcuffs on Werman. Dixon acknowledged that at no point at the scene did he ever caution any officer of even the possibility that Werman had possessed a knife. Before trial, the lawsuit was settled for $319,000. While, as part of the settlement, Officer Dixon and Sargent Neeper acknowledged no wrongdoing with respect to the incident, settlements of this amount are rare and are the real indication of whether the officers falsely charged Anthony Werman. It remains a curiosity, based on the record in the civil rights case, as to how the officers avoided criminal prosecution, or even any type of administrative discipline with respect to the incident, and it is proof of the harsh reality the oftentimes a Civil Rights claim is the sole method for obtaining justice when police officers violate your rights.

Civil Rights Case

At Schemery Zicolello, we believe protecting Civil Rights to be a calling. Civil Rights are important to all of us. These are rights that are intended to protect us from the intentional conduct or deliberate indifference of government officials regardless of our race, religion, or wealth. Not many law firms practice in this area of the law, and we have utilized our expertise to help clients throughout Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region. We recently had the opportunity to take up the cause for a family of a young man in Federal Court in New York State. Mike and Amy were hired by the family of a young man named Vincent after he tragically committed suicide while incarcerated at Sullivan County Jail in New York State. Sadly, Vincent battled drug addiction most of his adult life. He was not married and had no children, but his siblings had done all that was in their power to help him. Like many family members who have a loved one suffering from addiction, when Vincent was arrested in Sullivan County, NY, his family thought he was safe, and that having "hit bottom" he could start to get his life in order.

However, like many people facing some jail time, Vincent was suicidal upon his intake at the Jail and his mental state was such that he required suicide watch throughout the entirety his incarceration. Despite a prior unsuccessful suicide attempt and while supposedly on a "suicide watch" directed by the jail psychiatrist, Vincent committed suicide by draping a blanket over the front of his cell, fashioning a noose out of a sheet and a shoe string, affixing it to a steel hook on the back wall of his cell, placing it around his neck, and asphyxiating himself using his own weight while on his bed. Even more shocking is that another inmate committed suicide in the same manner and using the same hook just months prior and the jail administration made the decision not to remove the steel hooks from the cells of inmates on suicide watch. Mike and Amy helped Vincent's family raise awareness of the importance of proper suicide watch and medical care in an extremely old and outdated county prison. They fought vigorously to obtain a settlement in the amount of $375,000 for Vincent's Estate and were able to reveal to the family the county's plans to build a new jail with better safeguards to hopefully prevent future tragedies for families such as theirs.

Sexual Harassment

Schemery Zicolello represented a female county solicitor in federal claims for retaliation and sexual harassment against a county and county officials. The solicitor had reported several incidents of misconduct and wrongdoing with respect to a county official. The same county official also continuously engaged in conduct intended to harass and intimidate women in the workplace, which included screaming and throwing objects at the solicitor, discussing the solicitor's personal life with others, making sexually explicit and inappropriate comments, speaking publicly about his desire for the solicitor to resign, and ultimately wrongfully terminating her. We successfully obtained a settlement of $185,000 for the solicitor.

Sexual Harassment and Retaliation

Represented a female employee in a state retaliation claim against a nonprofit employer. Our client was terminated after she opposed and reported several incidents of sexual harassment by an individual performing work at the workplace. Successfully obtained settlement on behalf of plaintiff. (confidentiality agreement)

Sexual Harassment

Represented a female employee in a retaliation claim against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Our client was suspended and terminated after she complained of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment at the hands of her supervisors. Some of the reported conduct included unwelcomed emails and statements of a sexual nature, screaming at and belittling our client in front of others, throwing objects at her, locking her out of areas from which she needed to perform her job, and following her around. Our client was returned to her job, reimbursed for wages and benefits, and also received a monetary settlement.