Quit Or Forced Out? Hearing Held On Petrilla Unemployment Claim
HAZLETON — Maryanne Petrilla recounted what one of her bosses, Brian Kisenwether, the supervisors’ chairman, said on her last day of work as the manager of Butler Twp.
“He said, ‘Get out. We’ll get somebody else,’” Petrilla testified on Thursday during a hearing to determine if she can continue to collect unemployment insurance, a benefit that the township wants stopped.
Kisenwether and Charles Altmiller, another supervisor, said Petrilla gave an ultimatum and quit at the meeting on June 12, 2018.
“Did you quit?” hearing referee Leonard Omolecki asked at the hearing.
“I was told to leave,” Petrilla answered.
Circumstances under which she stopped working are crucial to whether her unemployment benefits will continue, a question on which Omolecki said he will rule within three weeks.
During the 90-minute hearing at the Pennsylvania CareerLink office, Petrilla said she would never quit because, now, at 61, she has to buy health insurance and find a new job. She thought she deserved the opportunity to retire after 30 years of public service, 22 of them with the township.
“This rocked my world,” Petrilla said. “I gave up my life for that township.”
She testified that she did not return to her job because she faced a hostile work environment, which developed during the previous two years as she differed with Kisenwether and township solicitor Donald Karpowich about ethical issues, including those that arose about a reprimand of an employee, a permit for a towing company that rivaled Kisenwether’s towing business and zoning approval for a cigar bar.
Karpowich wasn’t called to testify.
On June 12, Petrilla testified, Kisenwether pounded on her office door and came “flying in, red in the face,” and their conversation became tumultuous.
Petrilla said Kisenwether’s face purpled, he put his finger in her face and said he had a problem with her.
When she asked if he would sit down and tell her the problem, he said there were too many.
Altmiller already was in Petrilla’s office that day. When asked if Kisenwether knocked loudly, he said, “No.”
Later, Altmiller added that Kisenwether yelled when telling Petrilla to go, but “it wasn’t like veins were popping out of his neck.”
Kisenwether testified that he knocked on Petrilla’s door like he always did.
Asked if he wanted Petrilla to resign, Kisenwether said, “No, it was her choice.”
After June 12, Petrilla said her work email was cut off, township employees were forbidden to talk with her and township officials didn’t respond to offers from her attorney to discuss her return to work.
While she didn’t work after June 12, she took medical leave, received back pay through Aug. 11, 2018, and submitted a letter saying she would not return after Sept. 4, 2018, when her medical leave expired.
“Was the letter not a resignation letter?” she was asked.
“I would never have left,” Petrilla answered.
When cross-examining Petrilla on behalf of the township, Dominic D’Agostino of Interstate Tax Service asked if she said she quit when filling out an application online to collect unemployment insurance.
Petrilla said the computer only gave her two choices by asking whether she quit or was fired.
D’Agostino, in his closing statement, said Petrilla gave contradictory reasons for why she stopped working and didn’t tell Altmiller and Kisenwether that she believed she was working in hostile conditions.
Petrilla, in her closing statement, said Altmiller testified that she did go to him with her concerns more than once.
After Omolecki mails his decision, either side can appeal to the state Unemployment Compensation Board of Review.
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