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Laurie Lint v. the County of Fayette

July 5, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer


Pending before the Court is the Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Docket No. 24). Because the Court finds that there are disputed issues of material fact, Defendants' motion [24] will be DENIED.


a.General Background

Plaintiff Laurie Lint ("Lint") is a resident of Fayette City, Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 1 at ¶ 2). She was hired by Defendant Fayette County to work as a Clerk-Typist in its Elections Bureau in 1989. (Docket No. 34 at ¶ 1). In 1999, Lint was promoted to Director of the Elections Bureau by a vote of Fayette County's three-member Board of Commissioners ("Board"). (Id. at ¶¶ 4, 5). The parties agree that the Directorship was not a political position and political party affiliation was not a requirement for Lint's promotion. (Id. at ¶ 10; Docket No. 25 at ¶ 8).

Defendant Vincent Vicites ("Vicites") was a Commissioner at the time of Lint's promotion, and voted in favor of her promotion. (Docket No. 34 at ¶ 8).

As Director, Lint's responsibilities included oversight of the elections process for Fayette County. (Id. at ¶ 9). In this capacity, she reported directly to the Board. (Id.). Lint supervised Larry Blosser, a Voting Technician, and Cheryl Karol, a Clerk, among others. (Id. at ¶¶ 56, 60). Both Blosser and Karol are registered Democrats. (Id. at ¶¶ 57, 59).

Lint had registered to vote for the first time when she was hired by Fayette County in 1989. (Id at ¶ 2). She did so as a Democrat. (Id ¶ 3.). She remained a Democrat until January 2007, when she changed parties from Democrat to Republican. (Id. at ¶¶ 11, 12). At the time of this change, the Board to whom she reported consisted of two Republicans, Angela Zimmerlink ("Zimmerlink") and Joseph Hardy, and one Democrat, Vicites. (Id. at ¶ 13).

In January of 2008, following the 2007 election season, Commissioner Hardy was replaced on the Board by Defendant Vincent Zapotosky ("Zapotosky"), a Democrat. (Id. at ¶ 12). At this point, the Board consisted of two Democrats, Defendants Zapotosky and Vicites, and one Republican, Zimmerlink. (Id. at ¶ 17). Commissioners Zapotosky, Vicites and Zimmerlink did not work well together on the Board. (Id ¶ at 19). Zimmerlink believed Zapotosky and Vicites constantly excluded her from County business due to her political affiliation. (Docket No. 34 at ¶ 20). Zimmerlink eventually filed a lawsuit against Zapotosky and Vicites, alleging they violated her constitutional rights. (Id.).

Lint did not discuss her political party change with Zapotosky or Vicites, but she did inform Zimmerlink of the change in her political affiliation. (Id. at ¶ 118). Still, Lint claims that Vicites and Zapotosky knew of her party change because they received "street lists" that contained political party information about individual voters in the County. (Id. at ¶¶ 109, 111).

Following her change in parties, Lint perceived a change in the way she was treated by Zapotosky and Vicites. She claims they no longer came to her for business-related requests, going instead to her Democratic subordinates. (Id. at ¶¶ 116, 117). Zapotosky and Vicites claim that they only became aware of Lint's affiliation with the Republican Party through the events that precipitated this lawsuit. (Docket No. 25 at 5).

b.Disciplinary Actions

In 2008, Fayette County's human resources functions were administered by Felice & Associates, a consulting firm based in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 34 at ¶ 22). On April 1, 2008, Felice & Associates assigned Dominick Carnicella ("Carnicella") as the on-site Human Resources Director for Defendant Fayette County. (Id. at ¶ 24). Carnicella is a registered Democrat and has attended political functions for both Zapotosky and Vicites. (Id. at ¶¶ 26, 27).

Lint had a clean disciplinary record as an employee of Fayette County from 1989 until early 2008. (Id. at ¶ 28). Starting in April 2008 and continuing through her termination in October 2009, however, Lint was the subject of numerous disciplinary inquiries and investigations, as discussed in the following sections.

i.Budget and Training Event Investigation, April 2008

On April 3, 2008, two days after being appointed on-site Human Resources Director, Carnicella investigated Lint for two work-related incidents. (Id. at ¶ 29). The first involved a budgeting issue where Lint's office had allocated inadequate resources for a software and licensing initiative. (Id.). The second incident involved Lint's failure to attend a voting machine training event with senior citizens of Fayette County (Id.).

Lint claims that the software budget issue was not her fault because the amount she budgeted was based on the information provided by the software vendor. (Id. at ¶ 33). Likewise, she claims that she was not at fault for the training event fiasco because the session was scheduled by Vicites' assistant, and not by Lint herself. (Id. at ¶ 34).

On the basis of his investigation, Carnicella drafted a disciplinary verbal warning to Lint and presented it to the Board for signature. (Id. at ¶ 30). This disciplinary action required the signatures of at least two of the three Commissioners to become effective, and both Zapotosky and Vicites signed the document. (Id. at ¶ 31). Learning of Carnicella's investigation only when presented with the verbal warning, Zimmerlink objected to the disciplinary action pending more information. (Id. at ¶¶ 31, 32). She also objected to being left out of the investigation. Ultimately, the warning was not issued and Lint was not made aware of the disciplinary investigation. (Id. at ¶¶ 36, 37). Carnicella maintains that this was at the behest of the Commissioners. (Id. at ¶ 41).

ii.Timesheet Investigation, May 2008

In May 2008, Carnicella investigated Lint for another incident, this time involving a timesheet discrepancy. (Id. at ¶ 44). In early May, Lint's husband underwent heart surgery. (Id. at ¶ 47). Prior to taking time off to be with her husband, Lint submitted a timesheet reflecting her estimate for the number of leave hours she would take over a three-day period. (Id. at ¶ 44). Her estimations proved inaccurate. When she returned to the office, Lint did not correct her timesheet. (Id. at ¶ 47). In response to Carnicella's ...

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