Westmoreland County will pay $85K to settle racial discrimination lawsuit against sheriff |

Westmoreland County will pay $85K to settle racial discrimination lawsuit against sheriff

Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland County Sheriff Jonathan Held arrives at the Greensburg office of District Judge Chris Flanigan on Feb. 26, 2018. Held is accused of ordering his staff to campaign for him while on duty.

Westmoreland County commissioners on Thursday approved an $85,000 settlement in a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against Sheriff Jonathan Held and his department.

In the federal lawsuit filed in March, Gideon C. McClain, 61, of Jeannette, contended he was unlawfully rejected for a job in the sheriff’s office because he is black.

“It was a business decision. We had to settle,” said Commissioner Gina Cerilli.

The lawsuit is one of four filed against Held and the sheriff’s department this year. McClain’s case and another filed by a rejected job applicant alleged they were victims of racial discrimination. Two other federal discrimination lawsuits were filed by current deputies who claimed they were rejected for promotions because they were reservists in the U.S. military.

Commissioners said terms of the out-of-court settlement in McClain’s lawsuit barred them from discussing details of the case. Held previously denied any wrongdoing and in March issued a statement in which he said his department did not discriminate.

“As a condition of the settlement, I am not permitted to comment on it,” Held said Thursday.

Held, a two-term Republican sheriff, was first elected in 2012. Since taking office, his department has been been named as defendants in 11 lawsuits, many involving current and former department staffers. With Thursday’s action, seven of those lawsuits have been settled, with the county agreeing to pay out more than $188,000 to resolve the cases. A Tribune-Review analysis this year found that through March, the county also paid nearly $150,000 in legal fees involving the lawsuits against the sheriff’s department.

“It’s distasteful that the sheriff’s actions keep costing taxpayers dearly,” said Commissioner Ted Kopas.

Held, 44, of Hempfield, this year was charged by the state Attorney General’s Office with three public corruption-related criminal counts. He was accused of directing sheriff’s department staffers to perform campaign chores while on duty. Held’s trial is scheduled to begin in December.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293 or [email protected]

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