Lawsuit Between Center Valley Workers and Easton Settled
Officials call suit frivolous, but say it would have been too costly to fight.
Easton has settled a lawsuit filed by two former Benchmark Analytics workers who accused the city of neglecting dogs at its kennel.
Officials said Wednesday the city had paid $80,000 to Jackie Lovering and Katie Pruden, who filed the whistleblower suit last year.
Mayor Sal Panto and City Administrator Glenn Steckman said the suit had no merit, but argued it would have cost too much -- at least another $200,000 -- to continue fighting it.
"Basically, this is about gossip," Steckman told reporters at a news conference at City Hall. "This is gossip run amok."
In all, the city spent $120,000 on the case, between legal costs and the settlement. Of that figure, $70,000 will be covered by the city insurance policy. Easton taxpayers will pay for the other $50,000. Under the terms of the settlement, the city could not disclose how much the womens' employer, Benchmark Analytics, would pay.
City Council voted to approve the settlement Wednesday night.
Pruden and Lovering had worked for Benchmark Analytics, a Center Valley company. They claimed Benchmark -- which did contract work at the city sewer plant -- fired them after they went to WFMZ-TV to complain about conditions at the dog kennels.
The kennels are on the same property as the sewer plant.
Steckman called the suit "frivolous," and Panto seemed to take personal offense at the idea of dogs being mistreated on his watch.
"I consider these dogs to be my pets while they're in my care," he said.
Panto and Steckman said they never asked Benchmark to fire the women, but simply asked that they not be allowed back on city property. Asked if that didn't amount to the same thing, the mayor said they assumed Benchmark would reassign Pruden and Lovering.
"The last thing we want is to put people out of work," he said.
Lovering -- who attended the news conference "to see what they'd say" -- said she is still out of work, and declined to discuss terms of the settlement.
"I'm just glad it's over," she said, and added she was pleased the suit had led the city to improve conditions at the kennels.
Easton set up its kennel last year in response to a rise in stray dogs and overcrowding at the Center for Animal Health and Welfare. Earlier this year, the city got approval from its zoning board to continue operating the kennels, as what once seemed like a short-term solution became more long-term.