PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A decorated officer claims in court that the Philadelphia Police Department retaliated against him for trying to ensure that asbestos was properly removed from the “homework room” of a police-run after-school program.
Paul Zenak sued the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Police Department, in the Court of Common Pleas.
Zenak claims that he and dozens of children were exposed to asbestos in a church basement in northeast Philadelphia, which houses the program.
Zenak says an unqualified, unlicensed contractor was paid roughly $20,000 to remove asbestos from the site because of the contractor’s close ties to high-ranking members of the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia, a police-run nonprofit that provides “sport, educational and cultural opportunities” to thousands of youngsters.
Another $70,000 given by a corporate sponsor for site improvements is unaccounted for, Zenak says in the complaint.
Zenak says the contractor’s work at the site was dangerously shoddy, and that the contractor “has been involved with asbestos issues” for other Police Athletic League after-school programs.
Zenak says he returned to the homework room in October 2011, when the contractor said it was safe, and was alarmed to find the room filthy, dusty and strewn with bags of debris.
He says he raised concerns about the contractor’s credentials and methods with police supervisors, but instead of being praised for trying to ensure the safety of the site, he was issued “the first letters of reprimand … [he] had ever received in his twenty years of public service,” during which he was named Police Department’s “Officer of the Year” twice.
He says the letters will impede his ability to advance and transfer to other positions. He also says he was exposed to asbestos, and that he’s been out of work for weeks with asthma-like symptoms.
Also named as defendants are J. Bailey Builders LLC, and Wissinoming United Methodist Church, which allegedly owns the building that houses the after-school program.
Zenak alleges violations of the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Act and the Philadelphia False Claims Act, negligence, recklessness and civil conspiracy.
In addition to damages, Zenak wants the defendants to pay for medical monitoring so that in the event that he develops an asbestos-related disease, he will be diagnosed as soon as possible.
Zenak is represented by Aaron Freiwald, with Layser & Freiwald.
The Police Athletic League of Philadelphia did not immediately return a call requesting comment.