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East Penn officials don't know why they were named in suit

Published November 17. 2009 05:00PM

An East Penn Township supervisor and a former supervisor said they don't understand why they were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by a former township police department employee.

The suit was filed in the Scranton office of U.S. District Court by Maria Burrows of Kidder Township, who alleges sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and retaliatory practices.

Defendants are the East Penn Township Police Department, former Chief of Police Rodger Gehring, township supervisor Randy Pfeiffer, and former supervisor Guy Barry.

Burrows alleges in the suit that while employed in the police department, she was subjected to harassment and gender discrimination by Gehring. She also alleges that she had a meeting with supervisors regarding her complaints.

It is alleged in the suit, "Plaintiff reported this sexual harassment to Barry and Pfeiffer, who consistently refused to take any action to prevent further harassment ..."

Barry said, "Clearly the sexual allegations were directed at Gehring, but to get sued simply because you are a supervisor who supposedly knew about this and didn't do anything couldn't be further from the truth. The actual record is public information."

He added, "The reason for my response is that when a suit such as this is published, the intended effect is simply to trash your name. When you finally clear it, years have passed and the outcome is generally never published, therefore, people only know what they read."

He said in a written statement, "So, without getting into specific allegations, this matter was brought to the attention of all the supervisors on Nov. 15, 2007, prior to a township/budget meeting. It surfaced after Mrs. Burrows submitted her letter of resignation from the police force. Because of the seriousness of the allegations, we did not act on her resignation at that time.

"She was then informed that the next township meeting would be in two weeks, and she had that time to either give to us a written statement, depending on the seriousness, file charges at the very least, get us a letter from her attorney. In the interim, Randy and I demanded answers from Rodger.

"With the absence of any written statements or other correspondence, on Nov. 28, 2007, William Schwab, the liaison for the police department, made a motion to accept the resignation of Police Chief Rodger Gehring, which also was passed unanimously.

"With the resignation of both parties, the matter was effectively closed, all within a two-week period.

"Why Randy and I were named instead of William Schwab, who was the head of the police department, or the other two supervisors, we do not know."

Barry and Pfeiffer produced minutes from the Nov. 28 special and budget meeting. Under new business, it states, "William G. Schwab made a motion, seconded by Randolph Pfeiffer, to accept the resignation of Officer Maria Burrows effective Nov. 15, 2007."

The next paragraph states, "William G. Schwab made a motion, seconded by Gary Kuehner, to accept the resignation of Chief Rodger Gehring as Police Chief effective Dec. 11, 2007, subject that he'll continue on as an as-needed basis to provide administrative support to the department at a maximum of 15 hours per week ..."

Both motions passed unanimously.

Barry said he and Pfeiffer "hammered Gehring; we questioned him all the time on things. Gehring and I have no love lost between us."

Pfeiffer said he would not make a comment on the lawsuit because he is a sitting supervisor, but added, "I had no knowledge of the allegations in the lawsuit."

He added, "Although I have no knowledge of the allegations named in the lawsuit, I'm disturbed by the statement that no actions were taken on my part when for two weeks I tried to take action on complaints by residents, but was completely shutdown."

He said the supervisors had no control of the police, "and it continues to this day under Herb Truhe, the current police administrator."

Pfeiffer cited several differences he has with Truhe. For example, he said a police officer lived 12 to 15 miles outside the township, "and they are allowed to travel to their residences for lunch. They use township police vehicles to go to and from work and adjacent municipalities." He said this was not approved by the supervisors, but by Truhe.

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