Tuesday, November 25, 2008
By SARAH CASSI
EASTON | Two Northampton County Prison guards claim they were retaliated against and unfairly disciplined because of a pending lawsuit against the county over exposure to toxic mold at the prison.
Vincent Ferraro and Anthony Todaro, both of Nazareth, are seeking more than $150,000 from the county and county officials, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday in Allentown.
Defendants in the suit are the county, County Executive John Stoffa, Administration Director John Conklin, Human Resources Director Connie Sutton-Falk and Corrections Director Todd Buskirk.
Buskirk and county Solicitor Karl Longenbach did not return phone calls Monday seeking comment about the suit.
Stoffa and Sutton-Falk said they hadn’t seen the suit yet.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Stoffa said.
Ferraro and Todaro along with four other guards filed the previous suit against the county in November 2005 in state court alleging they got sick from mold at the prison.
The group claims it suffered both respiratory and gastrointestinal infections after an ongoing expansion at the jail stirred up mold that contaminated the air and food.
John P. Karoly, who represents the guards in that case, claims county officials knew about the mold but did not act quickly enough to fix it.
Joseph Welsh, who works for Karoly, said the mold suit is in the discovery phase.
After the mold suit was filed, Ferraro and Todaro claim they were subjected to a campaign of harassment and discrimination including:
— threats of termination
— being sent for psychological evaluations without any reasonable basis.
— unreasonably suspended without pay for a total of 86 days between the two guards.
— published communications that defamed them.
— publicizing purported incidents that misrepresented their character and job performance.
— demeaning comments about the suit and Karoly, and a disparaging photo of Karoly on a prison bulletin board.
“Plaintiffs were repeatedly told by various supervisors to stop asking such questions (about the mold), that their work areas were safe, and ultimately told that any further reports regarding problems related to mold infestation would be considered insubordination,” the federal suit claims.
When asked if the four other plaintiffs in the mold case would be added to the harassment suit, Welsh said “hopefully not.”
Welsh said county officials would have to explain why Ferraro and Todaro were singled out.