Schuylkill County commissioners schedule vote on settling their part of Halcovage lawsuit

Jan. 10—POTTSVILLE — Approval of a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice on the federal lawsuit involving Commissioner George F. Halcovage Jr. and other county officials is on the agenda for Wednesday's county commissioners meeting.

At a mediation session with Judge Joseph F. Saporito Jr. on Friday, the county and DOJ came to an agreement regarding the claims filed against the county, according to a letter dated Monday from Marie Milie Jones, an attorney representing the county.

The two sides, following the anticipated approval, plan to "immediately submit the decree" to Judge Martin C. Carlson with U.S. District Court for the state's middle district, her letter says.

Jones' letter requested a postponement of a discovery hearing scheduled for Wednesday. Carlson, in an order Tuesday, canceled the hearing.

Details of the agreement were not posted online Tuesday. The settlement is not believed to involve the four female county employees who filed the lawsuit claiming sexual harassment and sexual assault by Halcovage.

The DOJ and county discussed the possibility of a settlement in a letter to the court dated Dec. 8.

Halcovage, county Administrator Gary R. Bender, assistant solicitor Glenn Roth and two former human resource directors were sued in federal court in March 2021 by the four employees. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in October 2021 alleging retaliation for having filed the suit.

Halcovage has denied the allegations.

Carlson last year granted the DOJ's request to join the lawsuit over objections by Halcovage. The government alleged violation of federal law, claiming the county subjected the plaintiffs to a hostile work environment and retaliated for the lawsuit.

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.

District Attorney Michael A. O'Pake referred the case to the state Attorney General's Office on July 8, 2020. That office closed the case Feb. 5, 2021, without filing charges. Details were not provided, although an office spokesman at the time said statute of limitations was among the considerations for not filing charges.

The only means of removing an elected official is through impeachment by the state Legislature, a process that is underway in the Halcovage case.

Contact the writer: amarchiano@republicanherald.com; 570-628-6023