Pennsylvania attorney general discrimination settlement cost $15K
HARRISBURG — The first legal document tied to reputed pornographic emails shared by state prosecutors shows the Attorney General’s Office agreed to pay $15,000 to settle with a female agent who claimed “racy pictures” were part of the culture in an office where men held the power.
Agent Dianne M. Buckwash complained to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the Office of Attorney General discriminated against women. She will receive a salary of $100,001 annually, according to documents released in response to a Right to Know Law request by the Tribune-Review.
In the settlement agreement, the office denied discriminating against her in salary and promotions because of her gender.
The Trib could not reach Buckwash.
“There was a culture which discouraged advancement of women who were not attorneys and the people who held power were men. … The Criminal Law Division executives were also known to share racy pictures and make derogatory comments against women,” Buckwash said in her complaint about events during the administration of Tom Corbett, who was attorney general from 1995 to 1997 and 2005 to 2010, and his successor, Linda Kelly, who served in part of 2011 and 2012. Corbett, a Shaler Republican, became governor in 2011.
“I have no comment on that,” Kevin Harley, Corbett’s former press secretary in both offices, said when asked about the “racy pictures.”
Corbett’s office spokesman Jay Pagni declined to comment. Kelly could not be reached.
Buckwash claimed a “glass ceiling” prevented women from ascending in the agency. Officials redacted the agent’s name and other names from the documents. The Trib independently obtained her identity.
Harley, who worked for Corbett and other attorneys general, disagreed with the idea there was a culture of discrimination. He said women worked as lawyers, agents and chiefs, including current Secretary of Labor and Industry Julia Hearthway, who was a chief deputy managing the insurance fraud unit.
“There were many females who were promoted into leadership, in law enforcement,” he said.
Harley said it is not unusual for people passed over for promotions to sue. He said the “thorough” promotion process was done by committee.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s chief of staff, Bruce Beemer, signed the settlement. Kane, elected in November 2012, is the first woman and first Democrat to be elected to the office.
The Trib and other news organizations have requests pending for emails and attachments reportedly containing sexually explicit images that staff members shared in the Attorney General’s Office. People who have seen the emails say they include nude women, humorous images and adults engaged in sex acts.
The Trib’s request for the information was delayed by Cambria County Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III, who oversees a statewide grand jury. He held a phone hearing on Friday to consider whether the office can disclose the documents. It is not known how the issue got to a grand jury.
The emails were among 20 million deleted emails that Kane’s investigators recovered during her review of how Corbett investigated serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach. Sandusky’s arrest in November 2011 resulted in the firing of legendary coach Joe Paterno and unprecedented sanctions by the NCAA.
Kane found that Corbett did not drag out the investigation to slide past the 2010 gubernatorial election.
Phyllis Hartman, president of PGHR Consulting in Pittsburgh and a member of the Society for Human Resource Management’s Ethics Special Expertise Panel, said employees who dabble in inappropriate comments or behaviors may not, at first, realize they’re offending anyone.
But if a third party notices the behavior, it can lead to complaints, lawsuits or firings.
When training employers and employees, Hartman advises avoiding such conversations, jokes or behaviors while on the clock.
“Why take the risk?” she said.
Sending racy photos of women can send a message that women “don’t have value, in terms of your brains and your ability to do a good job,” she said.