Ex-employer files to overturn $1.7M award to whistle-blower

Posted: April 04, 2013

Marla Pietrowski hasn't collected a dime of the $1.7 million a Philadelphia jury awarded her last month.

But the 56-year-old former administrator of a rehabilitation program for prison parolees has a message for other would-be whistle-blowers:

"Don't give up, even when it looks like all is against you," she said. "Pursue what you believe is right, and in the end, it does work out."

Pietrowski hasn't received her money because on Monday, her former employer, the Kintock Group in King of Prussia, filed a motion to overturn the verdict reached March 22 in the courtroom presided over by Common Pleas Court Judge Annette Rizzo. That motion is pending.

Pietrowski, of Bridgeton, Cumberland County, sued the Kintock Group in October 2011. She claimed she had been fired in retaliation for raising questions about the possibility that her immediate supervisor was "engaging in criminal activity" with "possible drug activities," her suit said.

She also alerted higher-level executives that the same supervisor had brought his elementary-school-aged daughter to the company's office in Vineland - an office that served paroled sex offenders, the lawsuit said.

In a statement Tuesday, the Kintock Group said that it didn't retaliate against Pietrowski and that it had appropriate grounds to fire her.

"The Kintock Group takes seriously our obligation to create an environment where employees, without fear of negative repercussions, can bring forward in good faith concerns that will be heard, investigated and brought to appropriate closure in a manner that supports a positive work environment, promotes public safety, and ensures the overall effectiveness of service delivery," the company said.

Working under contract with state and federal authorities, Kintock, a nonprofit, runs reentry services for individuals being released from prison. Its website says that it earns $40 million in revenues, employs 500, and serves 1,500 clients a day.

"We had a responsibility to rehabilitate individuals, and in this situation, the majority of the individuals were drug offenders," Pietrowski said.

"This is a very serious area," she said. "You need to be walking the straight and narrow with these gentlemen, and they need to understand there is zero tolerance for any drug activity."

Here's how Pietrowski's lawsuit lays out the case:

On July 13, 2009, Kintock hired Pietrowski as a senior case manager at Kintock's Community Resource Center in Vineland. Soon after, her immediate supervisor and his boss told her that she was being groomed to be the director of the center.

Her relationship with her immediate supervisor soured in mid-October 2009, when, while both were in the center's kitchen, he drew attention to his long pinkie fingernail, saying he could use it in place of a fork.

He told her, she said in the suit, that he needed it for "bagging," which she took to mean the bagging of cocaine. "I don't use it; I bag it," he told her, the suit said.

She took her concerns about the supervisor up the corporate ladder and was ultimately told, the suit said, that her supervisor was personal friends with Kintock founder and chairman David Fawkner.

The director job became vacant. She applied and was turned down on Oct. 29, 2010. After that, she said, the new director deliberately undermined Pietrowski's authority. She was fired in May 17, 2011, accused of making false allegations.

The jury awarded Pietrowski, who earned $44,000 a year, back pay and compensation for not being promoted. Then, after further deliberation, the jury added punitive damages of $1.5 million. Lawyers' fees could top $500,000, said her attorney, Laura C. Mattiaci, a partner with Console Law Offices L.L.C. in Philadelphia.

Contact Jane M. Von Bergen at jvonbergen@phillynews. com,@JaneVonBergen on Twitter, or at 215-854-2769. Read her workplace blog at www.philly.com/jobbing.

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