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City of Pittsburgh set to pay employee $450,000 in discrimination settlement

Patrick Doyle
90.5 WESA

A City of Pittsburgh employee could soon receive a $450,000 payout from a workplace discrimination lawsuit.

Kathleen Butter worked in the city’s Department of Finance as a pension administrator in 2017, when she claims she was passed over for a job as assistant director of the finance department in favor of a younger, male colleague with less experience.

In a federal lawsuit filed in 2019, Butter claims her position was then eliminated altogether and she was reassigned. She now works in the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

According to court documents, Butter’s attorney argued that Paul Leger, the city’s former finance director, favored promoting younger males within the department over longer-term employees, two of whom were women over 50. Alec Wright, the attorney who represents Butter, claimed that she was only granted an interview for the assistant director role after she complained to former Mayor Bill Peduto’s office.

“Kathleen Butter was never going to get interviewed until she sent that email,” Wright told WESA.

A city spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit. But in court documents, the city argued that the employee who was promoted was more qualified. The matter went to a jury trial in July, but both parties agreed to a settlement before closing arguments.

A transcript shows that during testimony in court, Paul Leger, who served as finance director under Peduto, testified that he believed Butter was unqualified for the position. He testified that he promoted the employee three times in two years based on his qualifications, though he acknowledged the employee had no experience in government finance before getting hired by the city in 2015.

Butter’s attorney argued that her 23 years of work in city government should have earned her the job, but that Leger wanted a Peduto supporter and an all-male team to work in the city’s “business intelligence unit.”

The city denied that the promotion was motivated by politics, age or gender.

Butter’s position within the Department of Finance was eliminated from the city’s 2018 budget. Her attorney argued she was then “demoted” to the Department of Parks and Recreation. The city conceded that Butter’s new salary was $3,000 less than her previous job, but rejected the characterization of the move as a demotion.

Council must approve paying the settlement. Members motioned to hold an executive session on the matter — a typical move where litigation is involved — earlier this week.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.