Fired road supervisor sues city to get job back

Wednesday, January 24, 2001

By Torsten Ove, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A former city road supervisor --publicly criticized for the slow response of his crews to a 1999 snowstorm and later fired -- has sued the city and his former bosses to get his job back.

James Paolino, former head of the fourth division of the city's Department of Public Works, said in a federal suit filed this week that he was singled out for criticism and fired because he had spoken out earlier about a reorganization of the department.

He also says he was targeted because he's black.

The suit names former department Director Ralph Kraszewski, Operations Coordinator Jack Barley and the city as defendants.

The complaint focuses on a war of words between Paolino and Barley that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after heavy snows choked city streets on Jan. 2, 1999.

In a Jan. 8 article, Barley said Paolino's crews didn't clear snow and ice quickly enough from the streets in the South Hills neighborhoods handled by the fourth division.

Barley said Paolino would be investigated because it took his division two hours longer than the other department divisions to respond to the 5 a.m. alert that a snowstorm was coming.

The next day, Paolino told the Post-Gazette the criticisms were unwarranted and said the real problem was caused by a citywide reorganization of the department in 1998 that consolidated the six territorial divisions into five.

He said many of the delays in snow removal were related to a manpower shortage caused by the consolidation. He also said Barley was retaliating against him because he had questioned the new format and had told Barley he would talk to Mayor Murphy about his concerns.

"Ever since then, I've had nothing but problems from him," he was quoted as saying in the Jan. 9, 1999, editions of the Post-Gazette.

In that same story, Paolino defended his work and contradicted Barley's comments.

Barley said Paolino's crews weren't on the street until 9:30 a.m. on the day of the storm when the other city divisions had been out by 7:30 a.m. But Paolino said he had three trucks working by 7 a.m. and another four a half-hour later.

He disputed reports that more people called the mayor's office to complain about his territory than any of the others, saying repeat complaints from the same address were counted as multiple calls.

In addition, he told the paper that Barley had told another public works official that Eben Street in Overbrook, where Barley lives, was not salted on Saturday. But crew logs show that Eben was salted twice.

Paolino also said Barley had taken a salt truck from the fourth division for 21/2 hours the day after the storm and said he didn't know where it had gone.

Because of those comments, Paolino says in the suit, Barley recommended he be disciplined.

On Feb. 3, Kraszewski fired him.

Paolino says his interview with the paper was protected free speech and that he was unfairly punished for his public comments in part because he's black. To support that contention, he noted that Barley, who is white, was not disciplined for what he said.

"He was fired because he spoke out. There is also a racial component," said Sam Cordes, Paolino's attorney. "The problem here is that two people did the same thing and only one was punished."

Paolino, 60, of Fairywood Street, isn't working, and Cordes said he can't collect retirement benefits because he was fired.

Kraszewski has since left the department and could not be reached yesterday. City Solicitor Jacqueline Morrow did not return a call.

Barley refused comment other than to say Paolino had a chance to present his case at a Civil Service Commission hearing on Aug. 15, 2000, and didn't show up.