Westmoreland County company enters settlement in 2018 death of Allegheny County man 

The Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has approved a nearly $1.2 million settlement with a Westmoreland County company that it claims violated the Public Utility Code after a 2018 electrocution incident killed an Allegheny County resident. 

The commission recently voted 3-0 to adopt an initial decision accepting a Joint Petition for Approval of Settlement between the commission’s independent Bureau of Investigation and Enforcement and Greensburg, Westmoreland County-based utility company, West Penn Power Co. 

In the petition, the commission alleges that West Penn violated the Public Utility Code on April 12, 2018 when a conductor owned by West Penn fell into the wooden property of Terry and Frances Colton. 

The conductor, which caused a brush fire at the Colton’s property, killed Terry Colton after he came into contact with it, according to the March 26, 2021 complaint. The complaint goes on to say that West Penn failed to properly inspect and maintain the right-of-way and manage the vegetation within the right-of-way on the Colton’s property. 

As part of the settlement, West Penn has agreed to undertake “substantial remediation measures” which includes remediation of materials, programs and policies to help prevent future malfunctions of equipment as well as enhanced oversight procedures for contractors by West Penn Power employees. 

Following the remediation, the company will file with the commission for acknowledgment that it has complied with the measures. West Penn will also be paying a civil penalty of $1.175 million. 

“West Penn Power Company submits that this settlement is the result of the parties’ cooperative efforts, and constitutes a fair, equitable and reasonable resolution of this proceeding,” West Penn wrote in the joint petition. 

Geisinger employees sue over COVID-19 testing 

More than 70 Geisinger Health System employees filed a class-action suit against Danville-based Geisinger Medical Center and its affiliated hospitals and clinics, claiming its COVID-19 testing requirements for employees exempt from getting the vaccine force them to choose between their religion and their jobs. 

Geisinger issued a vaccine mandate for all its employees in August. It require employees seeking a religious or medical exemption to do so by Sept. 10. 

In a suit filed in U.S. Middle District Court Monday, the employees claim Geisinger did not warned them that by applying for a religious exemption, they would be required to be tested for the virus twice a week beginning Nov. 9, or face dismissal. They are asking the court for an injunction to halt the requirement so they can keep their jobs as the case moves forward. 

Geisinger officials were not immediately available for comment. In a statement to PennLive, Geisinger said that its mandatory vaccine policy has already led to a 50% decline in the number of Geisinger employees testing positive and those out on quarantine. 

“As a private employer, our mandatory vaccine policy and the process associated with it complies with the law, and similar policies have been upheld in state and federal courts,” the system wrote in its statement. 

According to Geisinger’s mandate, employees exempt from the vaccine were required to be tested for COVID-19 on Nov. 9, 11 and 16. After that, tests are required twice a week. Failure to comply would result in dismissal. 

The suit maintains that Geisinger is enforcing the mandate regardless of the religious views of its employees, calling the mandate a violation of their first amendment right to free exercise of religion.  

The mandate effects all Geisinger employees, regardless of if they work in medical facilities or work from home. Geisinger’s rulemaking also has no support from any official mandate from the federal or state government, according to the suit. 

The employees claim that Geisinger never told them that, despite the exemption, they would have to tested for COVID twice a week, wear a mask and be quarantined for longer periods of time than vaccinated coworkers. The suit says the PCR and Antigen tests required by Geisinger contain ethylene oxide, a carcinogen, which the plaintiffs must place inside their body through a nasal swab. 

The suit accuses Geisinger of religious discrimination, civil rights conspiracy, violation of the equal protection clause, retaliation and violating the employees’ right to privacy and medical freedom. 

The plaintiffs, represented by Williamsport-based attorney Gregory Stapp of Stapp Law, argue that Geisinger is retaliating against them because of their religious beliefs that keep them from getting the vaccine or being tested. 

Several federal offices have issued rulemaking on vaccinations in the workplace including the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and The Centers for Medicare and Medicard Services (CMS). 

On Nov. 4, OSHA announced a new emergency temporary standard. As part of the standard, covered employers must develop, implement and enforce a mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose between vaccination or undergoing regular testing and wearing a face covering at work. 

The standard impacts two-thirds of the country’s private-sector workforce. 

CMS issued its own interim final rule on Nov. 8, requiring most Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers to vaccinate staff within 60 days. However, staff who exclusively provide telehealth or telemedicine services outside of the hospital and do not have direct contact with patients or staff, are not part of the rule. 

States sue generic drug makers alleging collusion to stifle competition

A 50-state coalition filed its third lawsuit in an ongoing antitrust investigation into potential collusion among manufacturers of generic topical drugs.

The coalition’s new complaint alleges that generic drug manufacturers Taro, Perrigo, Actavis and Sandoz agreed to minimize competition and raise prices on dozens of topical products to ensure each company had a “fair share” of the market.

Taro, Perrigo and Sandoz alone sold nearly two-thirds of all generic topical products in the U.S. between 2007 and 2014, according to the suit.

A number of smaller companies are also defendants in the suit, which alleges the companies “understood the rules of the road and took the necessary steps to limit competition among them.”

The lawsuit targets billions of dollars in sales from more than 80 generic drugs the coalition says were artificially inflated. The complaint names 26 companies and 10 individuals that sold the products, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

Shapiro announced the suit in a statement on Wednesday.

The suit is one of three complaints filed by the coalition in recent years. The first two, one filed in 2016 and the other in 2019, are both pending in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

“The deeper we dig, the more we are finding how these companies have ripped off consumers in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said. “These drug companies are tied together at the hip — they profit while people who need affordable generic drugs suffer. We will continue to hold them accountable to restore competition in the marketplace.”

In its complaint, the coalition states that drug manufacturers had long-standing agreements over several years not to compete for each other’s customers and to follow each other on price increases.

Evidence brought forward by the investigation includes several cooperating witnesses, more than 20 million documents and a phone records database containing millions of call detail records.

“In order to maintain these unlawful agreements, the competitors stayed in nearly constant communication – meeting regularly at trade shows and customer conferences and communicating frequently by phone and text message to reinforce their understandings,” the states wrote in the complaint. “This complaint is replete with examples demonstrating how these understandings manifested themselves with respect to specific products over a period of many years.”

The lawsuit seeks repayment for the alleged inflated prices as well as restoration, civil penalties, costs and fees.