The Lackawanna School District appears close to settling a federal lawsuit filed by three former maintenance workers who alleged being fired in 2010 for bringing harassment and discrimination complaints against a supervisor.
After meeting for a nearly an hour in executive session Monday to discuss ongoing litigation, the Board of Education voted, 4-2, to recall two workers for the district’s maintenance department, using a union-approved recall list in determining the callbacks.
At the top of that list are two of the three men who filed the lawsuit last September in U.S. District Court – Michael Bryniarski and Matthew Blattenberger. The third plaintiff, Munir Mohsin, is fourth on the callback list.
The district’s attorney, Richard S. Juda Jr., said Tuesday that the vote was part of an effort to “further settlement negotiations” between the district and the plaintiffs. “It hopefully will lead to a potential settlement,” Juda said.
School Board President Leonard Kowalski also said he hoped the call- backs would help the district put the matter behind it.
“With any kind of lawsuit, you never know where things are headed,” he said. “On top of that, the schools are in pretty bad shape, too.”
The district did not have enough people on staff to care for buildings and grounds, Kowalski said.
A mediator has been meeting with the two sides to hash out a deal. The district is represented by an outside attorney paid through the district’s liability insurance coverage, he said.
Andrew P. Fleming, the lawyer representing Bryniarski, Blattenberger and Mohsin, declined to comment Tuesday.
Mohsin, Bryniarski and Blattenberger accused the district of eliminating their jobs in 2010 as retribution for a discrimination complaint lodged with the state Division of Human Rights in 2007 by Mohsin, a Muslim Yemeni-American. Bryniarski and Blattenberger signed statements saying they witnessed racial, ethnic origin and religious discrimination and harassment against Mohsin. Mohsin reached a financial settlement with the district in 2009.
All three men were fired as part of a July 6, 2010, School Board resolution that abolished four maintenance positions and created two new custodian positions.
The district had argued that the moves were an effort to cut costs in light of decreased state aid, while Fleming’s court papers portrayed some former School Board members as vindictive micromanagers intent on ousting the three men as soon as they attained a majority vote on the board.
None of the current seven board members was serving on the board in 2010.
The board’s vote Monday had to be amended in a canvas telephone vote Tuesday, because the original resolution failed to re-create the maintenance positions that were abolished in 2010.
Blattenberger and Mohsin are expected to be the two employees called back. Bryniarski and another laid-off worker were likely to turn down the recalls because they found better employment elsewhere, according to multiple sources. Tuesday was the deadline for the callbacks under a three-year window stipulated by a union contract.