State wants swift ruling in whistleblower suit
An attorney representing the state Department and Health and Human resources asked a judge Wednesday to rule in the agency’s favor and throw out the claims filed against it in a lawsuit before the case goes to trial.
Two former DHHR employees are suing the agency, its former acting secretary Rocco Fucillo, deputy secretary Warren Keefer and purchasing director Bryan Rosen, contending they were victims of illegal reprisals for their efforts as whistleblowers.
Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky didn’t make a decision Wednesday, but told attorneys they had two weeks to turn in proposed orders addressing the claim for summary judgment.
Susan Perry, a former deputy secretary for the DHHR, and Jennifer Taylor, a former administrator, claim they were both fired for raising concerns about inconsistencies in the evaluation and scoring of the bid packages for an advertising contract.
According to the complaints, Perry asked Taylor to review the score sheets for the advertising bid packages to determine whether they could provide grounds for the successful protest of the contract award by any of the bidders, which could delay awarding of the contract and prompt legal costs.
Chuck Bailey, attorney for the state, told Stucky DHHR officials never asked the women to investigate the bidding process.
“They wanted them to accept their opinion, which we could not,” Bailey said.
He contends the pair were acting on orders from former DHHR communications director John Law, who wanted the Arnold Agency to land an advertising contract.
Law was also fired.
“They stepped into the fray at the request of John Law,” Bailey said.
They were at-will employees, according to Bailey, who said, “giving honest legal advice doesn’t give them job security.”
When they raised concerns with DHHR officials, Perry and Taylor were told they could be charged with the criminal offense of interfering with the awarding of a state contract, according to their complaints.
In response, they said they were not concerned about which vendor was awarded the contract, but wanted the process to be conducted correctly so the DHHR could be defended in the event of a vendor protest or lawsuit.
“Is a jury going to decide that the DHHR can’t depend on the state purchasing director?” Bailey asked
According to the complaints, the issue came up in a July 13, 2012, conference call with Fucillo, who was working out of the DHHR’s Fairmont office, and Fucillo advised he would discuss the matter with them on July 16.
Instead, on that date, Perry, Taylor and Law were placed on administrative leave, barred from DHHR offices, had their email accounts blocked and were prohibited from contacting DHHR staffers at the workplace, according to the lawsuit.
The women “were trying to keep the DHHR out of legal trouble,” their attorney Walt Auvil said.
Also, Perry and Taylor allege that Fucillo ordered an investigation by the DHHR Office of Inspector General, “undertaken in bad faith, with malice, and the intent to retaliate and engage in reprisal against [Perry and Taylor] for their actions as whistleblowers.
The lawsuits claim they were the subject of a purported search warrant which they argue misrepresented facts surrounding the review, and which essentially accuses Perry and Taylor of criminal conduct.
A trial date in the case has not yet been scheduled.
Reach Kate White
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