PITTSBURGH — A local dispute has led to a federal lawsuit against the City of Uniontown and several elected officials after the tax collector was denied her position.
Antoinette Hodge was elected in November and stands to be the first African-American treasurer to take office in the city. However, she says several white city officials stood in her way and prevented her from being sworn in at a ceremony this week because of her race.
“In this suit, we bring violations of Ms. Hodge’s rights under the first and 14th amendments to the United States Constitution and 1964 Civil Right Act,” her attorney, Joel Sansone, said.
State law requires some elected officials to have an insurance bond, but Sansone said City Clerk Kimberly Marshal and Councilman Martin Gatti took steps to prevent her from getting the position, including not helping her with the bonding process.
“Ms. Marshal took other acts which were designed to keep Antoinette from being installed in her office,” Sansone said.
Hodge was, according to her attorney, forced to get her bond privately. She did, but soon after learned it was revoked.
“Antoinette was told that Mr. Martin Gatti had contacted the bonding company, claiming to speak for the City of Uniontown. He told the bonding officials that the city would not support or accept my client’s bond because of problems with her credit history, claiming that incriminating evidence had been discovered about this credit history in a background check,” Sansone said.
But Sansone says this was not the real reason for Gatti trying to stand in the way of her taking this position. It was what he allegedly referred to Hodge as when they spoke on the phone.
“He then responded that defendant Gatti had referred to the plaintiff as ‘the colored girl,’” Sansone said.
President of the NAACP of Pennsylvania Kenneth Houston said this is “absolutely appalling.”
“I don’t know what made this individual think that he could get away with such blatant racism,” Houston said.
Meanwhile, Gatti told Channel 11 he is not a racist. He said the lawsuit is ruining his reputation.
Gatti said he just wanted to make sure she is qualified to hold that office.
“I have never, ever said that phrase in my life,” he said. “It’s like foreign to me.”
The NAACP is now calling for Gatti’s resignation. However, Gatti -- a teacher -- told Channel 11 he is counter-suing.
He said there is nothing in his life that speaks of racism and that he’s just motivated by doing what is right for the taxpayers.
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