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Midland Employee Fired Two Years After Lawsuit

June 17, 2008

By Bob Bauder, Beaver County Times, Pa.

Jun. 17–MIDLAND — Midland Council has fired a secretary for violating a borough secrecy policy, two years after the same employee was charged with, and later cleared of, divulging sensitive police information.

Wonolia Pennington of Industry sued the borough after the 2006 episode, claiming then-Police Chief Ronald Bongivengo Jr. and Borough Manager Diane Kemp violated her civil rights with a wrongful prosecution. The suit is pending in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.

However, Midland solicitor Shannon Steele said council’s vote on Thursday to fire Pennington had nothing to do with the lawsuit or the prior incident.

Steele said council adopted a policy after the 2006 incident that prohibited employees from talking to anyone about sensitive information involving such things as public safety. Employees were required to review and sign the policy, and Pennington complied, Steele said.

“Basically she was found to have violated that confidentiality policy based on an incident (this year) while she was working for the borough,” she said.

Steele would not give further details, citing employee privacy concerns.

Pennington could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Gianni Floro of Moon Township, said he would not comment other than to say he was “livid” over the firing.

“I am outraged that they would reveal and make those comments to you” in light of the pending litigation, he said.

Bob Bauder can be reached online at bbauder@timesonline.com.

WHAT THE SUIT SAYS

Midland secretary Wonolia Pennington, who was fired last week, sued the borough in December 2007 after the former police chief charged her with divulging the name of a confidential informant in a drug investigation.

In the suit pending in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh, Pennington denied the allegations and claimed former Chief Ronald Bongivengo Jr. and Manager Diane Kemp defamed her and engaged in a malicious prosecution and false arrest.

Pennington claims in the suit that the publicity after she was charged caused her to faint and become violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea. She alleges that even after she was cleared and reinstated to her borough job, Bongivengo and Kemp created a hostile work environment.

The suit asks for more than $75,000 in damages on each of three counts.

In a written response to the suit, Midland officials denied Pennington’s allegations. When reached by phone Monday, neither Bongivengo nor Kemp would comment.

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