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Robert M. Wallett v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

March 10, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Sylvia H. Rambo


Before the court is Defendants Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission ("PTC"), Joseph G. Brimmeier ("Brimmeier") and George M. Hatalowich's ("Hatalowich") motion to partially dismiss Plaintiff's complaint. (Doc. 1.) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Background*fn1

Plaintiff, Robert M. Wallett ("Wallett"), was employed by the PTC until

May 15, 2009, when he was dismissed after an internal reorganization. Defendants Brimmeier and Hatalowich are Commissioners for the PTC. Wallett claims that both the PTC and the individual Defendants have a long-established policy, practice or custom of participating in a political patronage system that allowed the awarding of PTC contracts to be influenced by politics instead of merit. Wallett claims that the reorganization of the PTC was a sham and done solely for the purpose of terminating Wallett because he would not participate in the political patronage system.

In 1997, Wallett retired from the United States Air Force and accepted a position with Science Applications International Corporation ("SAIC") in Washington, D.C. Prior to taking this job, Wallett applied for the position of Deputy Executive Director of Engineering and Maintenance for the PTC. During the interview process, he was told by Commissioners and staff members about "the merit selection and long-term employment opportunities offered by the [PTC]." (Compl.

¶15.) Ultimately, Wallett was not hired for this position, however, he remained interested in working for the PTC.

Several months after he commenced working at SAIC, Wallett received a phone call from the PTC asking him to interview for the position of Director of Maintenance. When SAIC discovered Wallett was being recruited by the PTC, they offered him a salary increase and other financial incentives in an effort to retain him. The PTC told Wallett that although his salary would be lower than at SAIC, he would be adequately compensated and would have "job security and stability." (Comp. ¶ 19.) Relying on this information, in August 1997, Wallett accepted the position of Director of Maintenance with the PTC, which required him to take a $12,000 salary cut.

In January 2003, a new administration took over the PTC and Wallett claims that this is when he learned of the political patronage system that was rampant throughout the organization. One of the first acts of the new administration was to hire the former Associate Executive Director of the PTC, Michael Palermo, "to help the [PTC] transition and reorganize." (Compl. ¶ 25.) This reorganization was intended to reward individuals who were politically connected.

After the reorganization in May 2003, Wallett was told by Brimmeier that he was now the Director of Maintenance, not the Director of Facilities. An individual "sponsored" by Michael Palermo was placed in Wallett's former position. (Compl. ¶ 26.) This reassignment had the affect of demoting Wallett from a Grade 19 to a Grade 18 position.

As Director of Facilities, Wallett was charged with participating in the process outlined in Pennsylvania's Procurement Code and the PTC's Contracting Policies used to select architecture and engineering firms to be used for various PTC contracts. The process for selecting such firms is as follows: when a department identified a need for an architecture or engineering firm, a letter would be submitted to the Chief Operating Officer - Defendant Hatalowich - asking for approval to select from Letters of Interest. After the PTC approved advertising for the position, an announcement would be placed on the PTC's website and potential firms would submit Letters of Interest by the posted deadline. The Contracts Administration would then compile the information and provide it to the requesting department for evaluation. A summary of the interested firms is compiled and provided to the Technical Review Committee ("TRC") which would rank the firms from high to low. This list was used as the order of preference when selecting a specific firm for a job. The selected recommendations were then presented to the PTC at an informal meeting and subsequently approved at a formal PTC meeting.

Wallett followed the above-mentioned process and based his recommendations on "professional experience, qualifications, technical expertise, resources, and documented performance on similar work." (Compl. ¶ 36.) He would objectively present this information to the TRC. The TRC was comprised of five voting members, including Defendants Brimmeier and Hatalowich. Wallett alleges that Brimmeier and Hatalowich conspired with each other and other members of the TRC to ensure that politically connected firms received PTC contract bids. Wallett claims that, at time, politically connected firms that received a "low" ranking were chosen were awarded contracts.

At his annual performance review, Wallett was told my his immediate supervisor that Hatalowich had lowered Wallett's ranking "because Wallett always provided selection recommendations . . . of consultants at the [TRC] and all they wanted was to know if a particular firm had the ability and resources to perform a particular contract so they could pick who they wanted to pick." (Compl. ¶ 40.) One company in particular, Orbital Inc., received low rankings by Wallett but was routinely awarded contracts. Wallett alleges that Orbital Inc. is connected to Robert Lewis, an individual who gave large contributions to certain political committees and candidates. Wallett claims Robert Lewis would threaten PTC employees who did not act "the way he wished, with retaliation by going to his 'friend' [Defendant] Brimmeier . . . ." (Compl. ¶ 41.) In addition, Wallett believes that he was repeatedly not selected to participate in the choosing of firms for long-term contracts because he was honest and not subject to political influence.

During his time at the PTC, Wallett believes that not only were politically connected firms getting contract bids, but also that politically connected individuals were being placed into positions without going through the standard hiring practices. As an example, Wallett points to an architect who was placed in Wallett's department. In 2003, while Wallett was making an effort to submit a reorganization plan to the PTC, Defendant Brimmeier asked Wallett if his department needed an architect. Wallett in turn created such a position within the department that was approved by Brimmeier. Shortly after the position was created, Wallett was informed by the human relations department that the position would only be posted internally, not externally. Wallett was confused by this decision as he knew, based on personal experience, that there were no employees who had both an architectural degree and an AIA designation within the organization. Despite the perceived lack of a qualified individual for the job, Wallett was eventually provided an application by the human relations department. Wallett was instructed to conduct an interview with the candidate and recommend whether they were qualified or unqualified for the position, but was not told to interview anyone else. Wallett believes that the ...

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