PITTSBURGH — Over $1.2 million was awarded to a fired Allegheny County Jail employee in his federal employment case against the jail.
Jeffrey Kengerski had been employed at the jail for 13 years and oversaw its highest-security areas.
On Oct. 7, the jury ruled that Kengerski was fired after he reported racist comments and text messages from a member of Jail Warden Orlando Harper’s senior command staff.
“There was a lot of harassment that I just couldn’t deal with anymore,” said Kengerski.
“There were racial slurs made about family members that I didn’t appreciate, it was uncalled for. It was in front of several other people. It was basically to embarrass me and to make a fool out of me and to make my family look less than theirs.”
Kengerski said he was harassed by co-workers after making the report. He claimed he got racist hang-up calls, was physically threatened, and was falsely accused of misconduct.
The jury awarded $930,529 to Kengerski, and the county is also responsible for paying his attorneys’ fees and costs, making the award total more than $1.2 million.
“I am ecstatic about the verdict. It has been a difficult eight years for me and my family, but I knew that if I didn’t fight back, the harassers would win,” Kengerski said.
“It says to the county you need to treat your employees better and if you don’t, you need to be willing to recognize that before you go through 7, 8 years of litigation,” said Maggie S. Coleman, Kengerski’s attorney.
Allegheny County Solicitor George Janocsko provided the following statement to Channel 11 following the jury’s decision:
“We are extremely disappointed in the jury’s decision. The county presented a strong case, with evidence from multiple sources, that Mr. Kengerski directed subordinates to falsify information in reports and also disclosed confidential information. We do not and will not condone any racism by any employee of this county and take offense to any assumption that this was the basis for Mr. Kengerski’s termination. We are exploring all legal options, including a likely appeal of this decision.”
In the meantime, Kengerski is now employed at the Butler County Jail but tells Channel 11 he believes there are other Allegheny County employees who are being mistreated. He’s hoping his latest verdict will encourage them to come forward.
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