Parties in Halcovage lawsuit discussing possible settlement
May 2—The parties involved in the federal lawsuit accusing Schuylkill County Commissioner George F. Halcovage Jr. of sexual harassment and assault "have begun to engage in good faith discussions related to settlement," a court filing shows.
A conference by phone is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday and the judge in the case has ordered a settlement status conference report by Aug. 1, according to documents filed Monday in U.S. Middle District Court.
Catherine Smith, of the Derek Smith Law Group, Philadelphia, the attorney for the four female accusers, all county employees who sued Halcovage in March 2021, wrote a letter dated Monday to U.S. District Magistrate Martin C. Carlson noting the settlement discussions.
"The parties collectively believe that mediation could be beneficial," Smith wrote.
She requested a conference through Magistrate Judge Joseph F. Saporito Jr., who obliged by arranging next week's teleconference.
In an email Tuesday, Smith wrote, "This should in no way be seen as an indication that the plaintiffs have waived from their position that their rights were significantly violated by the county and the individually named defendants."
Having a conference to determine if a "fair resolution of their claims is possible" does not mean a settlement is guaranteed, she said.
And if the settlement effort proves unsuccessful, it would have "no impact on the potential future trial date," Smith said.
Gerard J. Geiger, Halcovage's attorney, did not return a phone call for comment. Halcovage has denied the allegations.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, said settlement conferences are "part of most litigation."
Halcovage, county Administrator Gary R. Bender, assistant solicitor Glenn Roth and two former human resource directors were sued by the four employees.
The county solicitor and human resources office had previously found Halcovage violated county policies on sexual harassment, conduct and discipline, and the county said his actions would have caused him to be fired had he not been an elected official.
A settlement agreement was reached in January between the U.S. Department of Justice, which had enjoined the lawsuit last year, and the county.
The DOJ had alleged violation of federal law in that the county subjected the plaintiffs to a hostile work environment and retaliated after the lawsuit.
The settlement, approved by a 2-1 vote in January, with Halcovage opposed, requires the county to put in place measures designed to ensure that employees are free from harassment.
In paperwork for the settlement, it was noted that the plaintiffs declined an offer to settle for $850,000 because they wanted the public "to hear all the facts and the circumstances which support their claims."
Proceedings began in Harrisburg last year toward Halcovage's possible impeachment.
He is seeking reelection this year and is one of eight candidates on the May 16 Republican primary ballot for one of two party nominations for commissioner.
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