Wed, Oct. 14, 2009 By WILLIAM BENDER Philadelphia Daily News
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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 [email protected].
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