Suit against medical examiner's office claims gender discrimination, hostility

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A forensic investigator with the Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner sued several current and former supervisors of that office late Monday, alleging gender discrimination against women, a hostile work environment, and retaliation when employees complain.

Kelly J. Vay, 36, of North Versailles, was hired by the county in 2009, according to the complaint in U.S. District Court filed by attorney Michael J Lorence.

She worked on a crew staffed mostly by women, which the men in the office referred to using a vulgar slang term for female genitalia, according to the complaint. When the women complained, a supervisor told them that use of the vulgar term was "all in good fun," according to the complaint, and their efforts in 2010 to secure a meeting about the problem were unsuccessful.

Women who dressed up were called "whores," and one male investigator in an argument with a female investigator hurled a derogatory epithet sometimes used to insult women, according to the complaint.

While men were rarely disciplined, Ms. Vay was suspended without pay for five days on one occasion for using a store's restroom facilities, and for 26 days on another occasion for slamming a door and making a hole in a wall, according to the complaint.

In 2010, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Ms. Vay was one of two employees of the medical examiner's office who were suspended for five days for entering a Wal-Mart while there was an unattended cadaver in their van.

According to the complaint, at a December 2013 hearing on discipline against Ms. Vay, Office of the Medical Examiner Laboratory Director Robert Huston "was heard to say ... 'That chick is not going to step foot in this building again.'"

Ms. Vay has been on medical leave due to the stress caused by the office environment, according to the complaint. She seeks damages for lost pay, potential future losses in pay and benefits, damages for emotional distress and reputational harm, and punitive damages.

The named defendants are Mr. Huston and current or former office managers Michael Baker, Stephen Pilarski and Michael Chichwak.

The complaint claims that three or more female forensic investigators have left the office because of the hostile atmosphere in the last five years.

Medical Examiner Dr. Karl Williams declined comment, as did a county spokeswoman.

Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord.

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