• APNewsBreak: Age-bias claims cost Pennsylvania $225K

    By: MARK SCOLFORO, Associated Press

    Updated:
    HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Eighteen agents who investigate violent gun crimes for the Pennsylvania attorney general's office each cashed $12,500 taxpayer-funded checks last year to settle claims they had been subject to harassment because of their age, The Associated Press has learned.

    The agency this week disclosed the payments to the current and former members of its Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force.

    The agents had alleged that supervisors, including Jonathan Duecker, a top aide to then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane, repeatedly said they wanted to replace them with younger workers.

    Duecker had an "established animosity toward older white males" under his command, wrote Tal Kramer, a lawyer for another agent, in a separate lawsuit against Duecker and others that was settled this week.

    That agent, former attorney general's office narcotics investigator Michael McIlmail, felt forced to retire at age 58, the lawsuit said.

    The $225,000 in payments and the general release of claims the gun task force agents signed in July 2018 were provided in response to a Right-to-Know Law request from the AP.

    The release said it covered "discrimination and harassment due to alleged acts and omissions" by the attorney general's office, "including any and all such alleged acts and omissions by certain of its personnel from the prior elected administration."

    The agents filed complaints against the attorney general's office with the state Human Relations Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission before a settlement was finalized in July 2018.

    Commission confidentiality rules prevent the agency from disclosing details from the complaints, said Jacklin Rhoads, a spokeswoman for the current attorney general, Josh Shapiro.

    Shapiro, a Democrat, told a legislative committee more than two years ago that his office faced nearly $4 million in legal costs related to Kane's tenure when he took office in 2017, and the cost of the inherited litigation and labor claims has since increased.

    Kane, who won a landslide in 2012 to become the state's first woman and first Democrat to be elected as Pennsylvania's top prosecutor, named Duecker as chief of staff in 2015.

    Kane did not complete her term, but was convicted of perjury and obstruction in 2016 for leaking grand jury material to a reporter and lying about it. She was released at the end of July after serving eight months in a suburban Philadelphia jail.

    Shapiro "had to weigh the risks and benefits of litigating these cases," Rhoads said Thursday. "As always, General Shapiro evaluated the merits of each claim seriously and determined, in this case, there were cost and morale benefits to reaching amicable resolutions with employees and wiping the slate clean for the office."

    Patrick Mangold, a member of the gun task force, said he confronted Duecker about the alleged harassment in spring 2016, according to a deposition a year ago made for the federal lawsuit brought by McIlmail.

    "I said: 'Listen, we're going to file a suit against the state because of the harassment you're conducting, you know,'" Mangold testified. "And he said: 'You can do what you want to do. I'm insulated. But I want to get rid of these old guys and put younger guys in because these guys aren't doing their job and pulling their weight.'"

    Calls and emails were left seeking comment from Duecker.

    Mangold said the Human Relations Commission issued him a letter clearing the way for a lawsuit.

    "My letter read that your complaints have been founded, I believe the words were, and that you can go forward with a civil suit, civil action," Mangold said in the deposition. No such lawsuit was filed.

    Kramer on Wednesday declined to disclose the settlement terms regarding McIlmail's lawsuit against Duecker, the agency and several others.

    Duecker, who had led the agency's anti-narcotics arm, became a polarizing figure under Kane and has been a defendant in several lawsuits over his time working for her.

    Two days after Kane's successor, Bruce Beemer, was appointed to take over as attorney general in August 2016, he fired Duecker from what was a $140,000-a-year position.

    "None of the leadership that was participating in this behavior is employed here at this time, or was once we came in," Rhoads said.

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