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Chester Co. authorities sued for ex-worker’s puzzling firing

Wed, Oct. 14, 2009 By WILLIAM BENDER Philadelphia Daily News
benderw@phillynews.com 215-854-5255

David London, an Army veteran, was riding high last October after receiving a big promotion at the Chester County courthouse.

The following day, London claims, he became entangled in a bureaucratic nightmare that resulted in him being fired from his job and kicked off the property for a 30-year-old crime that he didn’t commit.

The lawsuit that London recently filed against the Chester County commissioners, District Attorney Joseph Carroll and other county officials reads like a lost chapter to a Franz Kafka novel:

Last year, London, 44, a former sergeant who served in the Persian Gulf and had “Top Secret” clearance, was about a month into his new job at the courthouse, where he was supervising daytime custodial workers under a contract that the county has with his then-employer, Texas-based ISS Facility Services.

He was promoted on Oct. 6, 2008, to a position supervising day and night shifts. The next day, he was unemployed. According to the civil-rights suit filed last week in federal court in Philadelphia, London was called into a meeting and told that a criminal-background check showed that a person with his name and birth date was convicted of burglary and sentenced to prison in 1978.

London, however, would have been 13 years old that year and wouldn’t have been eligible to do adult jail time for a felony conviction.

He tried to explain to his boss and a county official that they had the wrong guy, but they “did not even give him any opportunity to be heard,” the lawsuit states. Instead, London was fired, required to hand over his keys and ID badge, and escorted from the courthouse. “Imagine having to tell your wife and kids that even though the U.S. military knows you’re trustworthy and safe enough to earn top-secret clearance and supervise a missile site, your company and your local government have announced that you’re actually a dangerous felon and a fraud,” said his attorney, Mark Sereni.

Sereni declined to elaborate on the lawsuit, which seeks in excess of $150,000 for invasion of privacy, retaliation and defamation, among other alleged wrongs. But he said that it’s a clear case of mistaken identity. State police and FBI background checks done at London’s request did not turn up the burglary case – or any other felony or misdemeanor convictions.

“Imagine after you’ve been fired on the spot on bogus charges, having to struggle in this lousy economy to find a new job to support your family with that stigma tattooed on your forehead,” Sereni said. “No wonder Mr. London has not gotten another custodial supervisor position.”

London, who lives in Downingtown, has tried to clear his name, but he’s finding red tape at every turn. He returned to the courthouse to get fingerprinted to prove that he was not a criminal, but was told the fingerprinting was “inconclusive,” the lawsuit states.

London’s attorneys tried asking the county to retract its statement that he is a felon. No dice. When they requested records from Chester County, Assistant Solicitor Thomas Abrahamsen cryptically replied that the request “leads us to the opinion that some adverse employment action befell Mr. London.” Abrahamsen wrote that the county’s president judge “has ordered that no one with a felony conviction can work in the Justice Center.”

But when London’s lawyers tried to obtain the judge’s order, which they claim is “patently illegal,” they received a letter from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts saying: “We have been informed that the order you have requested does not exist.”

Legal experts say that a blanket policy banning felons from working in the courthouse, rather than an evaluation of applicants on a case-by-case basis, could be a recipe for more lawsuits.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has long held that automatically excluding all potential employees with a criminal record discriminates against blacks and Hispanics because they are convicted at a rate disproportionately greater than their representation in the population.

“I think it’s certainly problematic, certainly susceptible to a challenge,” Mary Ellen Maatman, a Widener Law professor, said of the county’s purported policy.

Neither Abrahamsen nor President Judge Paula Francisco Ott returned calls from the Daily News seeking comment. Chester County has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit. It also accuses officials of engaging in a “devious coverup” and “insidious retaliation” when London protested his termination.

For more information, please contact Mark A. Sereni at 610-565-5700 or mas@dioriosereni.com.

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Bob DiOrio and Mark Sereni have both been named to the 2009 Top Lawyers list by Main Line Today Magazine

Mr. DiOrio has been named in the categories of divorce law, family law, and trusts and estates.  Mr. Sereni has been named in the categories of employment law, medical malpractice, and personal injury law.

For more information, please contact Mark A. Sereni at 610-565-5700 or mas@dioriosereni.com.
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Third Circuit Court Of Appeals Upholds Public School District’s Ability to Protect the Rights Of Its Kindergarten Students And Their Families

A June 1, 2009 precedential opinion of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, written by Chief Judge Scirica and joined by Judge Barry, held that a public school district upheld the law when it had requested that a mother refrain from reading aloud from the Bible to an audience of kindergarten students as part of a mandatory classroom exercise.  The case is Donna Kay Busch v. Marple Newtown School District, et al.  The Court held that “a reading from the Bible or other religious text is more than a message and unquestionably conveys a strong sense of spiritual and moral authority.  In this case, the audience is involuntary and very young.  Parents of public school kindergarten students may reasonably expect their children will not become captive audiences to an adult’s reading of religious texts.”  Mark A. Sereni, Esquire of the law firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP was lead counsel for the School District and successfully argued the case before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

For more information, please contact Mark A. Sereni at 610-565-5700 or mas@dioriosereni.com.

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The Legal Intelligencer and Pennsylvania Law Weekly recognize Mark Sereni and DiOrio & Sereni, LLP for class action settlement

The Legal Intelligencer and Pennsylvania Law Weekly, two state-wide legal publications, have recognized Mark A. Sereni and the law firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP in their March 2009 “TOP CASES OF 2008″ supplement for having achieved the highest class action settlement throughout Pennsylvania and the second highest verdict or settlement in Delaware County, as reported by these publications.

For more information, please contact Mark A. Sereni at 610-565-5700 or mas@dioriosereni.com.
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U.S. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION FINDS THAT YEADON BOROUGH HAS UNLAWFULLY RETALIATED AGAINST WHITE WORKER WHO HAD WON RACIAL DISCRIMINATION CASE AGAINST BOROUGH

In a Determination dated September 29, 2008, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that Yeadon Borough has violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by retaliating against Christi Vitullo for having won a racial discrimination suit against the Borough two years before.

In March 2006, a federal jury in Philadelphia found that the Borough had discriminated against Vitullo, a white woman who had applied for a position with the Borough as a full-time police secretary.  According to the verdict, “race was a motivating factor in the Borough’s decision not to hire Vitullo as full-time police secretary.”

The jury awarded Vitullo $25,000.00 in back pay and compensatory damages.  The Court subsequently awarded Vitullo $74,460.00 in attorneys’ fees and $9,215.75 in costs.

Mark A. Sereni of the Media law firm of DiOrio and Sereni, LLP was and remains Vitullo’s attorney.

Through the time of trial, Vitullo had continued to perform work for the Borough as a part-time police transcriptionist.  Now the EEOC has found that the Borough unlawfully retaliated against Vitullo for her victorious lawsuit by severing her part-time work relationship soon after the jury verdict.

In a 2006 interview about her reaction to the jury verdict, Vitullo had said, “My parents taught me that racial discrimination in any form is wrong.  I’m very happy the jury has taught the Borough the same lesson.”  In a recent statement, Sereni referred to Vitullo’s earlier reaction to the verdict.  “All Christi really wanted was for the Borough to have learned its lesson to hire and retain the best qualified person regardless of race or any other illegal consideration.  Instead, the EEOC has found that the Borough not only  failed to learn its lesson, it also punished Christi for having exercised her right to be free from discrimination.  I can’t imagine that the good taxpayers of Yeadon would tolerate that kind of alleged abuse of power and waste of resources.”

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10/20/08

NEARLY A YEAR LATER, CLIFTON HEIGHTS MINORITY-OWNED BUSINESS IS STILL SUFFERING FROM THE EFFECTS OF UNSOLVED RACIAL HATE CRIME

In November, 2007, two African-American female entrepreneurs opened up a new shop on East Baltimore Pike in Clifton Heights. Tylanda Whitney and Pamela K. Williams proudly named their fledgling business the Ty-Kae Variety Store.

Just two weeks later, these women became the target of a racial slur that had been spray-painted, almost 10 feet across in block letters, on the sidewalk in front of their shop.

The meaning of this vile display was clear to them – get out now, or suffer the consequences. But Tylanda and Pamela refused to back down, and instead decided to stand their ground and fight for justice.

Almost a year later, this hate crime remains unsolved, its cowardly perpetrator presumably still roaming free. And these women’s minority-owned business continues to suffer from the crime’s lasting effects.

“I believe the motivation behind this hate crime was not only to intimidate these courageous women, but to stigmatize their business as well, not much different from the twisted objective of the Nazis’ forcibly marking Jewish-owned businesses during the first part of their reign of terror,” Mark A. Sereni, Tylanda and Pamela’s new attorney, explained. “Unfortunately, despite my clients’ hard work, the combination of this trauma and this stigma has likely impaired their ability to get their business off the ground, especially during these tough economic times.”

Facing eviction for inability to meet their rent payments, Tylanda and Pamela recently turned to Sereni for help. “Thanks to a compassionate landlord, we succeeded in working out that issue. My clients intend to keep doing their best to earn both the right to stay in business here and the privilege to serve the good people of Clifton Heights and our surrounding communities. They’re not going to let a few very bad apples spoil the bunch,” Sereni said

The Ty-Kae Variety Store is located at 56 East Baltimore Pike in Clifton Heights. The shop sells a wide variety of items, including custom-printed tee-shirts, hats, scarves and other hair accessories.
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The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP, is located in Media, PA and serves clients in and around Media, Glen Riddle Lima, Brookhaven, Wallingford, Newtown Square, Lenni, Springfield, Swarthmore, Chester, Aston, Bryn Mawr, Morton, Woodlyn, Broomall, Gradyville, Folsom, Chester Heights, Crum Lynne, Glen Mills, Marcus Hook, Ridley Park, Drexel Hill, Marple, Bethel, Garnet Valley, Chadds Ford Concord, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County, Philadelphia County.


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