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Negative comments about Italian Americans basis of suit

Assistant clerk files in federal court against Frenchko, other commissioners

YOUNGSTOWN — The legal troubles of Trumbull County commissioners continue to mount as an employee of the commissioners’ office has filed a lawsuit in U.S. Court Northern Ohio District against Commissioner Niki Frenchko, in particular, and commissioners, in general, for derisive statements regarding Italian Americans.

The plaintiff, Lisa DeNunzio Blair of Willowbrook Drive NE, Warren, is assistant clerk in the office, beginning work there in November 2019. The woman, who is Italian American, stated Frenchko has made comments to the effect that county employees are “henchmen,” “minions” and “hacks.” The lawsuit also states that Frenchko repeatedly refers to county government as a swamp and referred to her staff as “flying monkeys” and other derogatory comments.

Frenchko also has used derogatory and derisive terms when referring to Italian American county workers, calling them “greasy,” “sausage makers” and referring to some office workers as being akin to Michael or Don Corleone of “The Godfather” movie fame.

The lawsuit claims three counts, discrimination based on national origin / ancestry, defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The case was assigned to U.S. Judge John R. Adams and magistrate Carmen Henderson. No hearings have been sent and the docket does not state if defendants were notified.

Frenchko, who was arrested for comments made at Thursday’s commissioners meeting, said she has not seen the legal action. But the allegations in it were previously dismissed by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, she noted.

“I categorically deny all the claims in the suit. Coming from an ethnic background myself, including some Italian, these are absurd allegations,” Fenchko said.

Blair and other employees of the office had complained to the Human Resources Department, which then investigated the charges against Frenchko, the lawsuit states.

As a result of these complaints and the resulting investigation, the lawsuit claims Frenchko began a “campaign of harassment and retaliation against the office workers, including Blair. This harassment included making cyber-bullying comments on the internet and sending harassing emails and publicly accusing the plaintiff of being a liar, the suit claims.

The lawsuit lists 25 instances of cyberbullying / harassing emails to Blair and others from Nov. 24, 2021 to May 25, 2022.

The retaliation involved Frenchko voting no on Blair’s application to become permanent assistant clerk within the department after Frenchko had previously instructed her to apply for the position shortly after Frenchko took office, the suit states.

The result of former HR Director Richard Jackson’s investigation states evidence supports the claim of a hostile work environment, the lawsuit states. Jackson has since resigned from the job.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by attorney Dennis R. Fogarty of Willoughby Hills, seeks damages in excess of $1 million, plus any punitive damages assessed by the court and calls for a trial by jury.

Frenchko and commissioners have been named as defendants in two similar federal lawsuits filed by office employees Christine Glenn and Dawn Gedeon.

In the Glenn lawsuit, the case was reassigned in late March from Adams to U.S. District Judge Charles E. Fleming. Lawyers from both sides are filing briefs in the case.

Meanwhile, Gedeon’s lawsuit is before U.S. Judge Benita Y. Pearson of Youngstown, who has scheduled a case management conference for July 18.

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