An attorney representing two of three Department of Health and Human Resources administrators placed on reassignment leave July 17 has filed a 30-day notice of intent to sue DHHR acting secretary Rocco Fucillo.
Parkersburg lawyer Walt Auvil submitted a four-page letter giving notice of his intent to file suit on behalf of suspended DHHR attorneys Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor, contending that Fucillo's actions constitute defamation, invasion of privacy, gender discrimination, and violate the state Ethics Act and whistleblower laws.
"The actions of Mr. Fucillo and other DHHR employees constitute publicity which casts Ms. Perry and Ms. Taylor in a false light in the eyes not only of co-workers and fellow employees, but also third parties and the public at large," Auvil states.
Perry and Taylor, along with DHHR communications director John Law, were placed on paid reassignment leave on July 17 by Fucillo without explanation, and have remained on paid leave for more than seven weeks.
Sources have said Fucillo placed the three on leave after they raised concerns about plans to award an advertising and marketing contract worth about $4 million a year to the highest of four bidders.
On July 19, the DHHR contract was awarded to Columbus, Ohio-based Fahlgren Mortine – an action that came after the contract had been in limbo for nearly six months following the bid opening in January.
In the notice, Auvil cites violations of the state whistleblower protection law, noting, "Adverse employment actions have been taken and continue to be taken against Ms. Perry and Ms. Taylor due to legal advice provided by them to the best of their professional ability and according to their ethical obligations."
Under the state whistleblower law, it is illegal for any state official to take any acts of retaliation or reprisal against any employee who in good faith reports government wrongdoing or waste.
Similarly, Auvil contends Fucillo's actions violate the state Ethics Act, which bars retaliation against public officials and employees for the honest performance of their duties.
Auvil's notice also contends that the actions against Perry and Taylor constitute gender discrimination, in violation of the state Human Rights Act.
Under state law, attorneys are required to give state agencies and officials 30 days' advance notice prior to filing any legal actions against them.
The letter is dated Sept. 4, but it is not clear whether it was delivered to Fucillo on that date or on Wednesday. Contacted Tuesday evening, Auvil said the letter had not been served at that point.
Auvil was on the road and unavailable for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Fucillo, who had been commissioner of the Bureau of Children and Families, was named acting secretary of DHHR on June 29 after Secretary Michael Lewis resigned for health reasons. Fucillo works primarily out of a DHHR satellite office at the Middletown Mall in Fairmont.
Fucillo and DHHR spokeswoman Marsha Dadisman did not immediately return calls Wednesday.
Contacted Wednesday, Law declined to discuss why he is not a party to the suit.
"All I can say is they decided to do it and I decided not to do it," he said of the notice by Perry and Taylor to file suit against Fucillo.Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.