Retired Pittsburgh firefighter Cerminara files suit over sick pay
July 5, 2012 8:31 AM
Bob Donaldson / Post-Gazette
Retired Pittsburgh firefighter Dave Cerminara is suing the City of Pittsburgh over attempts discipline him for speaking with the media.
By Rich Lord Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A retired firefighter who once took the city of Pittsburgh to court after he was taken off the job due to his epilepsy sued again today, alleging that the director of public safety is withholding his accumulated sick pay as retaliation for talking with media.
David Cerminara, 56, of Banksville, worked for the Fire Bureau for nearly 32 years until his June 1 retirement as a captain, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court by attorney Samuel Cordes.
His tenure was interrupted in 2008 when the city tried to keep him off work for a year as a precaution after he began taking epilepsy medication. He filed a grievance and sued, eventually getting around $35,000 in back pay and $59,000 in settlement of his claim that the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Two days before his retirement took effect, he was in the Steuben Street firehouse when a city public works crew painted new lines on the street. The same day, another city crew stripped the freshly lined pavement off the street, the complaint said.
When a KDKA-TV reporter came around asking questions about it, Mr. Cerminara "commented that what had occurred made no sense, was stupid, and a waste of taxpayer money," the complaint said.
Hours after Mr. Cerminara's retirement became official, city Public Safety Director Michael Huss filed internal charges against him, for speaking with the media without permission. That would normally spur a trial board hearing, but no such process occurred, because of Mr. Cerminara's retirement.
However, the city has withheld some $20,000 that Mr. Cerminara is owed for sick time he never used, the complaint said.
"He had conversations with the civil service department who informed him that the check was cut, and it was given to Mr. Huss who said he would not send it to him," said Mr. Cordes.
City officials had no immediate comment.
Mr. Cordes said withholding the check is a violation of Mr. Cerminara's First Amendment free speech rights.
"He was talking about waste in government," Mr. Cordes said. "That's quintessentially what the First Amendment is about. We have a right to do that regardless of whether we are employed by the city or not.
"We do not allow small, petty government officials to retaliate and penalize us for exercising our First Amendment rights."
Mr. Cerminara sued the city and Mr. Huss. He seeks the compensation he said is due him, plus compensatory damages for emotional distress and punitive damages for the alleged constitutional violation.
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