The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

April 16, 2013

Fired CYS chief, county settle age bias lawsuit

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

MERCER COUNTY — Mercer County has settled a federal age discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee for about $30,000.

Michelle M. Kardasz, 57, of 342 W. Venango St., Mercer, received $21,000 from the county’s insurance company, while her attorneys received $9,325, according to the settlement contract released by the county Monday following a Right-to-Know request filed last week by The Herald.

The contract states that neither side is admitting any liability or wrongdoing.

A telephone message left with Kardasz was not returned.

Kardasz was director of Mercer County Children and Youth Services from April 13, 2009, until she was fired Sept. 1, 2010.

Commissioners John N. Lechner and Brian Beader voted for the firing, and ex-Commissioner Kenneth Ammann voted no, calling the termination unjustified.

Kardasz said Beader gave her a letter Aug. 29, 2011, that said there was cause for concern about the operation of the agency, and the “Common Pleas Bench,” an apparent reference to the county court judges, lacked confidence in her ability.

This letter was the first time she had been told about any problems with either issue, and she had never been counseled, disciplined or warned before, she said.

The letter informed Kardasz she was being placed on administrative leave with pay and benefits, but she was told by letter on Aug. 31, 2010, that she was being fired, effective the next day.

Ammann did not sign the termination letter.

Commissioners did not follow their own discipline policy or consult with the Human Resources Department prior to the disciplinary actions, Kardasz said.

She called the stated reasons for her firing “pretextual” and noted that her replacement, Kathryn Gabriel, is substantially younger than she.

The commissioners answered the suit by saying she was fired for “not competently managing and operating CYS.”

Two judges had complained of Kardasz’s management style, the commissioners said.

Commissioners also said she had been told of concerns about her management before the Aug. 29 letter, and that she “had little to say” and “provided no information” when they met with her about their concerns.

The parties engaged in a mediation session March 26 and resolved the case, according to a court filing.

Kardasz signed the settlement agreement March 31 and waived a 21-day review period, and Lechner signed the agreement on behalf of the county March 2.