SCRANTON – An attorney for Luzerne County and former commissioners Maryanne Petrilla and Stephen A. Urban filed a brief in federal court seeking dismissal of a lawsuit by former County Director of Veterans' Affairs Richard Wren.
Wren contends he was fired because of his political affiliation with former county Commissioner Greg Skrepenak, thus violating his First Amendment rights, and that he was victim of age discrimination.
In a brief filed Tuesday, attorney Joseph Joyce repeats the county's contention that Wren, 53, was fired for forging a receipt for a Memorial Day expense, and notes it is not and never has been defendants' position that plaintiff was terminated for anything else. But the brief goes on to make legal arguments against Wren's claims of discrimination and rights violations.
Joyce argues the position of director of veterans affairs is exempt from First Amendment protection from being fired for political views as it is a policymaking position. Courts have ruled that elected officials have a reasonable expectation such employees will share their political philosophy. Policymaking employees with different political affiliations or orientations could thwart the will of the electorate and block the implementation of new policies.
The brief also argues Petrilla and Urban would have terminated Wren regardless of his political association.
The paperwork details Wren's failure to meet a deadline in seeking reimbursement for a meal at Perkins restaurant bought as part of Memorial Day activities, and how Wren obtained a Perkins receipt and altered it to show an earlier date.
When the county controller noticed the alteration and Wren was confronted, he admitted to altering the receipt. He was terminated Sept. 24, 2009.
Joyce also argues Urban and Petrilla are protected from a First Amendment retaliation claim under the doctrine of qualified immunity, protecting government officials from liability for civil damages related to statutory or constitutional rights as long as those officials perform their duties reasonably.
Joyce makes similar arguments against Wren's age discrimination complaint, noting courts have ruled that policy making positions are exempt from protection under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and that he has no proof age was a factor in his firing.
The brief asks for a summary judgment dismissing the suit.