Former Mahoning chief sues township, 3 officials
Former Mahoning Township Chief of Police Kenneth Barnes has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Philadelphia, against the township and supervisors Frank Ruch, Linda Benner, and former supervisor John Wieczorek. Also named defendants are "three John and three Jane Does."
Besides seeking financial damages, Barnes is seeking reinstatement.
Barnes lists seven counts in the federal court action:
• Count 1 - Descrimination/retaliation under the Pa. Human Relations Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
• Count 2 - Violations of First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, free speech and equal protection.
• Count 3 - Deprivation of Civil Rights.
• Count 4 - Retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
• Count 5 - Employment Discrimination.
• Count 6 - Breach of Contract/Wrongful Discharge.
• Count 7 - Federal and State Fair Labor Standards and Wage Claims.
Under the filing Barnes is seeking to hold the defendants liable, to award him such relief as compensatory, consequential, and punitive damages, front and back pay, negative tax consequence relief, reasonable attorney fees, litigation costs, and other equitable relief.
According to the court document, Barnes was hired on Aug. 13, 2008 as chief of police in the township.
He alleges in the complaint that in 2011 he "engaged in activity that was not part of his employment with Mahoning Township as its police chief." This included reporting to an environmental agency that the township violated environmental and employment/community safety law, opposed gender discrimination by the defendants, opposed employment discrimination retaliation by the defendants against a female police candidate, and cooperated with an investigation into the claims of discrimination by that candidate.
Barnes states in the complaint, "Prior to the Plaintiff's activity ... there was no discipline brought against the Plaintiff; there was no concern raised to the plaintiff by the defendants about his ability to perform his duties; there was no concern raised to the plaintiff by the defendants about his handling or management of the police department and/or its officers, and there were no complaints by the defendants abut the plaintiff's job and off the job activity and/or performance as police chief."
According to the court document, Barnes had complained about the Mahoning Township Municipal Building and the police department not being handicapped accessible.
He also reported that police department employees were subject to noxious and dangerous gases stored below the police department.
At one point, he states, there was a process of hiring new police officers. Among the top candidates was Marie Lesinski, who had prior police training and was certified to be a police officer.
Barnes alleges that Benner opposed hiring Lesinski because "she is too pretty to be hired, she cares for a disabled brother, and she filed a sex discrimination suit against her former employer."
Lesinski was ultimately not hired.
Barnes says in the complaint, "I am being subjected to a hostile work environment."
He said he was denied employment opportunities because of his anti-discrimination stance.
The supervisors, he said, released to the press false statements, and demanded "under threat of discipline that I disclose the name of a law enforcement confidence witness."