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Pa. Senate employee left in limbo after she alleges sexual harassment

The woman, Sue Salov, has been locked for months in a high-stakes lawsuit with the Senate involving sexual harassment allegations.

The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.
The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.Read moreAP

HARRISBURG — Late last week, Pennsylvania Senate officials had police escort out of the Capitol a security officer who is suing them for allegedly tolerating a culture of sexual harassment at work.

The officer, Sue Salov, was told March 7 to pack her belongings, turn in her badge, and not report back until she heard from someone in the chamber’s administration, according to two sources familiar with the incident.

She has been waiting ever since.

Over the last six days, top Senate officials did not respond to repeated questions about Salov’s employment status. Late Wednesday, Senate Secretary Megan Martin, who oversees the security force, would say only that Salov remains a paid employee, but provided no further information about her status, including whether Salov still has the same job title and duties.

The handling of Salov’s case has raised questions about the Senate’s treatment of employees who bring sexual harassment claims. It is also bound to raise the stakes in a lawsuit that is already rancorous.

“Everything that you’re describing — being told to take your personal belongings, turning in your badge, being cut off from work email — those are all common things that happen when someone is being fired,” said Jennifer Storm, the state’s victim advocate, whose office works with crime victims. “What is not common: the vagueness of them not telling an employee what’s happening, or handing them something in writing.”

Salov, the deputy director of Senate security, declined to comment. Her lawyer, Wayne Ely, also declined to discuss the matter.

Salov, employed for more than 25 years with the Senate, alleges that Senate officials began retaliating against her after she reported in late 2017 that her then-supervisor, Justin Ferrante, had sexually harassed her. Ferrante at the time was the Senate’s director of security.

Last fall, she sued Ferrante, the Senate, and the commonwealth in federal court, alleging that they “illegally subjected her to sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation."

In court papers and other documents, Salov has alleged that Ferrante texted her inappropriate graphics and cartoons, as well as a picture of male genitalia.

Around the same time, Ferrante also was accused of harassing another Senate employee, Keah Tingler. Tingler was a veteran receptionist in the security office; she alleged that Ferrante had on multiple occasions sent her photos of feces after visiting the bathroom during work hours.

Amid an investigation into the matter, Ferrante resigned. In court papers, he has denied the allegations.

The Senate, too, has denied any wrongdoing. And in a move that sparked controversy, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati’s office quietly agreed last year to pay Ferrante’s legal bills.

According to sources familiar with Salov’s and Tingler’s cases, both women feel as if their professional lives were derailed after they reported Ferrante’s behavior.

Tingler ended up retiring from the Senate on disability last fall. Salov remained on staff, but sources familiar with her case have said that over the last year, she has been marginalized, stripped of some duties and access, and given a poor evaluation for the first time in her decades-long career. She was also placed on a “performance improvement plan" for 90 days.

Last Thursday, on the final day of that 90-day period, a top aide to Martin visited Salov in her office, and told her that she had not improved her behavior, the sources said. Salov was stripped of her badge, her radio, and her building access card, and told to gather her personal belongings.

Within minutes she was escorted out of the building by a Capitol Police sergeant, but was not told whether she was being fired or suspended. Instead, Senate officials told her they would contact her Monday to update her on her employment status.

As of the end of the day Wednesday, they had not.