Former employees of WV secretary of state’s office sue over firing

Former employees of WV secretary of state’s office sue over firing

Phil Kabler, Staff Writer

Ten former employees of the West Virginia secretary of state’s office who were fired by new Secretary of State Mac Warner have filed wrongful termination lawsuits in Kanawha Circuit Court.

The workers were part of a 16-employee purge when Warner took office in January. The lawsuits, filed this week by Charleston attorneys Ben Salango and Mark Atkinson, contend that the employees were part of a mass firing orchestrated by Warner so he could replace longtime office staffers with handpicked new hires — a throwback to a spoils system the suits argue is illegal under state law and the West Virginia Constitution.

The firings wiped out about a third of the office’s employee roster. Warner initially contended that the firings were part of a downsizing of the office staff to reduce costs, but he hired 22 new employees.

The lawsuits allege 15 of the 16 fired employees were registered Democrats, and 19 of the 22 new employees are registered Republicans.

The complaints also note many of the fired employees, most of whom had between eight and 50 years of experience, were replaced by hires with little or no governmental experience.

Testifying before the state Senate Finance Committee in February, Warner defended the firings.

“It’s just what we needed to do to move the office forward,” he said.

Salango said the odds 15 of the 16 employees Warner fired just happened to be Democrats and 19 of the 22 new hires just happened to be Republicans are astronomical.

“You probably have better odds of getting struck by lightning twice,” he said.

In addition to wrongful firing, some of the 10 former employees also allege discrimination based on age, gender and/or race.

Warner spokesman Steven Adams said the office doesn’t comment on pending litigation. The suits name the West Virginia secretary of state as the only defendant.

The plaintiffs include Rose McCoy, business clerk; Timothy Richards, business and licensing specialist; Nancy Hamilton, head receptionist; Cristie Hamilton, elections specialist; Tammy Roberts, elections specialist; Samuel Speciale, public affairs specialist; Layna Valentine-Brown, elections director; Anna-Dean Mathewson, business and licensing specialist; Christina Stowers, receptionist; and David Nichols, legal assistant.

The cases are assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom.

Warner defeated incumbent Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in November 2016 following a heated campaign in which they differed on numerous issues, including open voter registration, which Warner described as a plot to register Democrats.

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