Termination lawsuit settled
WILLIAMSPORT - Notice was filed in federal court here late Tuesday afternoon that Kymberley Best's lawsuit against Northumberland County, a commissioner and former commissioner has been settled with the aid of a mediator.
The filing says a mediation conference was held Tuesday.
The notice provides no details, and U.S. District Court Judge Yvette Kane still must officially close the case. No further filings were made by the close of court business Wednesday.
Best filed suit in May 2011 following her termination as assistant county solicitor and chief clerk.
On Oct. 27, she filed a second amended complaint that reinstated allegations of sexual discrimination and harassment and retaliatory firing against Northumberland County Commissioner Vinny Clausi and former Commissioner Merle Phillips.
In the second amended complaint, Best reiterates her previous claims of Clausi treating her in a hostile, demeaning and intimidating manner. She claimed the commissioner deliberately and violently knocked papers off her conference table, followed her around the office, commented on her clothing and hair and ordered an employee to follow her to catch her doing something wrong.
The amended complaint claims Clausi encouraged the firing of Best at a meeting on March 15, 2011. The complaint states Best's firing by Clausi and Phillips took effect March 18, 2011.
During the meeting on March 15, Best said the county was beset with poor employer/employee relations that were resulting in costly lawsuits due to arbitrary terminations and bad press. In her capacity as a private citizen, Best said she proposed a code of civility as a way to restore the public image of county government, increase the effectiveness of local government and avoid costly lawsuits in the future.
In the lawsuit, Best said Clausi accused her of being late to work and, while standing over her desk "in an intimidating and threatening manner," said, "Go ahead and sue me. I can take care of you for 10 cents. That's the cost of a bullet."
The Democratic commissioner was also accused of making lewd sexual remarks, detailed in a 13-point complaint filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) at the same time as the lawsuit. They included comments about how she dressed, her hair, his sexual abilities and whether or not she looked "hot," according to the complaint.
Clausi at the time called Best a "pathological liar" and that the timing of the complaints less than a week before an election was intended to hinder his re-election.
In September 2011, Best withdrew the unlawful termination counts, citing Pennsylvania court decisions that have found county commissioners are entitled to absolute immunity from suit as "high public officials."
In December of that same year, she was forced to file an amended complaint to resolve problems cited by Kane. In the new filing, Best added allegations that Clausi repeatedly made false claims that she had sex on the job with her close friend, Attorney Timothy Bowers.
Clausi and Phillips responded a month later with a request for dismissal, citing immunity.
In July 2012, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt recommended part of Best's free speech claim, which alleged retaliation by Clausi and Phillips, remain. He said her amended complaint had provided enough facts to support her claim, something Kane had said was lacking initially. The judge also recommended part of a whistleblower claim survive along with a limited right to seek compensatory and punitive damages.
A month later, Kane adopted recommendations made by Blewitt that dismissed due process, equal pay, conspiracy, wrongful termination and state whistleblower claims. She agreed that Best had failed to prove Clausi made statements about her sexual relationship with Bowers.
Remaining in the suit were Best's free speech claims that allege retaliation and the part of the whistleblower claim that deals with her reports of deficient air quality in the register and recorder's office and danger from a glass dome.
It was following the August ruling that Best filed her second amended complaint in October.