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A 25-year veteran juvenile probation officer has filed suit in federal district court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and its Family Court division claiming that when he told his superiors that he has AIDS, he was not only denied a transfer to a more suitable post, but was summarily fired. Attorneys L. Oliver Frey and Heather Gelfand Petrakis of Philadelphia’s Frey Petrakis Deeb & Blum filed the suit on behalf of Joseph Roderick citing claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973; Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act; and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. Family Court Administrative Judge Paul Panepinto, who was not specifically named in the suit, was out of the office yesterday afternoon and unavailable for comment. According to the suit, Roderick had worked for the court for 25 years when he was fired in August 1999. At the time of his firing, Roderick held the post of juvenile probation officer in the central district and was earning $48,000 per year, the suit says. But when he learned that he had AIDS, Roderick claims he asked for a transfer to a post in the “risk assessment and prevention unit” as an accommodation for his disability. The suit says court officials denied Roderick the transfer on pretextual grounds, telling him that he was not qualified for the post because he lacked the requisite training. But Roderick says one of his non-disabled co-workers was given the same transfer despite having even less training. Roderick claims court officials targeted him for disparate treatment by subjecting him alone to a random audit designed to trump up false reasons for firing him. The audit was flawed and prejudicial, the suit alleges, because the auditor did not speak Spanish and interviewed many of Roderick’s Spanish-speaking clients in their homes without the help of an interpreter. The suit says the auditor concluded that Roderick had falsified documentation about his home visits and that court officials immediately suspended him and notified him that he faced possible termination. Although the court afforded him a hearing to defend himself against the charges, Roderick says he learned of the hearing just one day before and was therefore unable to mount a defense. When he was fired on Aug. 30, 1999, Roderick says he was told that he was being discharged for failing to attend two court hearings, falsifying records of home visits and allegedly reading a newspaper in the court record room. Frey and Petrakis contend that the reasons offered by the court for Roderick’s firing were pretextual because he had received only satisfactory and above-satisfactory evaluations during his entire career. “It was not until plaintiff informed [the court] that he suffered from AIDS that he was subjected to a random audit of his clients which created the pretext for his termination,” the suit alleges. The case, Roderick v. First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, 00-cv-6127, has been assigned to Senior U.S. District Judge Norma L. Shapiro.

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