The city of Pittsburgh plans to pay $7,500 to settle a former firefighter's claims that officials retaliated against him because he criticized the Public Works Department in a television interview two days before retiring. City solicitor Daniel Regan and Samuel J. Cordes, attorney for retired firefighter David Cerminara of Banksville, confirmed the proposed settlement. Legislation authorizing the deal is to be introduced today in city council.
Mr. Regan said the city denies that it violated Mr. Cerminara's rights but considers $7,500 a reasonable sum for settling the federal suit, which named the city and Public Safety Director Michael Huss as defendants.
At 8 a.m. May 30, Mr. Cerminara said in the lawsuit, he observed a public works crew use 15 to 20 gallons of paint to put yellow traffic lines on a "long stretch" of Steuben Street in the area of the West End fire station. About an hour after that, he said, a second public works crew milled the road and obliterated the new yellow lines.
Public works director Rob Kaczorowski blamed the gaffe on a misunderstanding. During a May 30 television interview, however, Mr. Cerminara criticized the department for wasting taxpayer money.
Mr. Cerminara retired June 1. To punish him for speaking out, he said, the city withheld about $20,000 he was owed for unused sick days. In his lawsuit, filed July 5, Mr. Cerminara alleged violations of his First Amendment rights.
In a response to the suit, the city acknowledged serving Mr. Cerminara on his retirement day with "specification of charges" for violating fire bureau rules. However, the city said Mr. Cerminara never faced a trial board, or any kind of discipline, and denied that it withheld his sick pay.
Rather, the city said, Mr. Huss requested that the check be sent to the public safety office and that Mr. Cerminara pick it up there. On July 18, the city said, Mr. Cerminara and his attorney picked up the check.
Mr. Cordes confirmed that Mr. Cerminara has been paid for his unused sick time. The $7,500 in the proposed settlement, he said, "really represents damages."
Written by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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