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State agent wins suit based on harassment

Friday, January 23, 1998

By John M.R. Bull, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A jury has awarded a former state liquor control agent more than $430,000 because she was repeatedly harassed about her interracial relationship with a state trooper.

Judy Dici of Ellwood City now works as a substitute teacher.

"My client didn't just lose a job, she lost a career," said her attorney, Joe Selep. "She has endured more than anybody should have to endure."

Selep said Dici suffered a nervous breakdown and quit her job as a result of the harassment. He said she was hospitalized for almost three weeks and suffered other serious medical and psychological problems.

The doctor bills totaled more than $30,000, and Dici filed a federal sexual harassment case.

On Wednesday, the jury awarded Dici $431,134 to pay for her medical bills and to compensate her for lost wages, which include back pay and any future money she may have earned.

Included in that amount was $1 that the jury awarded Dici in punitive damages.

Dici had been an agent for 15 years with the state Liquor Control Board, and was transferred to the state police when they were given liquor law enforcement duties in 1987.

Selep said Dici's problems began in earnest in 1990, when a rookie agent was assigned to the state police regional liquor enforcement offices in the Parkway Center Mall in Green Tree.

The rookie, Steven Brison, was unhappy that Dici, who is white, was in a relationship with a black state trooper assigned to barracks in Central Pennsylvania, the jury was told.

According to testimony, Brison brought a photograph into the office of Ku Klux Klan members at his grandfather's funeral, and he directed racial slurs toward Dici because of her relationship.

Dici filed a complaint with the state police internal affairs department, and Brison was transferred to an office in another region, Selep said.

Because Dici complained, she was "ostracized and vilified for blowing the whistle on a brethren" officer, Selep said.

"She just could not take the internal pressure" in the office, he added.

In court, Brison denied making disparaging racial statements about Dici's personal life, although other employees disputed his testimony.

The state police maintained that some of the statements were never made and that others were taken out of context.

And though the state police maintained supervisors did not know about the incidents, the jury decided one supervisor, Capt. Frank Monaco, should have disciplined Brison after he brought the photographs into work.

Neither Dici nor Brison could be reached for comment yesterday.

A state police spokesman said an appeal might be filed.

"We feel the department and Captain Monaco weren't at fault in any way," said Sgt. Tim Allue, of Harrisburg. "We'll certainly honor any decision by the courts."

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