By August 9, 2017 Read More →

Former employees file wrongful termination suits against Secretary of State’s Office


The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W. Va. — Ten former employees have filed wrongful termination lawsuits against the West Virginia Secretary of State’s Office.

The plaintiffs were among 16 employees terminated Jan. 16, after the newly elected Secretary of State, Mac Warner, a Republican, took office.

According to the complaints, the Deputy Chief of Staff and Communications Director for the Office of the WV Secretary of State’s Office, Mike Queen, said Warner assumed each constitutional office was going to be asked to reduce its budget.

“We’re hoping we can demonstrate to the Legislature we’re operating more efficiently,” Queen said. “Everybody has to try to become more lean. Secretary Warner will have his team on the ground ready to run, and do more with less, and do it the best we can.”

However, the lawsuit said following the termination of the 16 employees, 22 new employees were hired.

Of those terminated, 15 were registered Democrats and none was registered Republican. Of the 22 new hires, 19 are registered Republicans.

“That’s more than just a coincidence,” said attorney Ben Salango, of Preston & Salango PLLC in Charleston.

Salango, along with Mark A. Atkinson and John-Mark Atkinson, are representing the 10 plaintiffs.

Salango said three of the 16 employees were management-level and could legally be terminated.

“Decision-making employees at management level, whenever a new head, like a Secretary of State, takes office, they can terminate management-level folks,” he said. “They cannot terminate non-policy-making employees based upon political affiliation. Generally employees are at-will if they do not have a contract, but simply because they are at-will does not mean they’re not without protection.”

The three remaining employees are eligible to file a claim, but Salango does not anticipate additional suits based on their current employment status.

“The folks I represent have been unable to locate suitable employment.”

Rose McCoy, Cristie Hamilton, Nancy Harrison, Timothy P. Richards, Tammy Roberts, Samuel Speciale, Layna Valentine-Brown, Anna-Dean Mathewson, Christina Stowers and David Nichols are the plaintiffs named in the suits.

Salango said in addition to political affiliation discrimination, several age, race and gender claims are included in the suits.

“Rose McCoy, she started working there in 1967,” Salango said.

He said McCoy, described in the complaint as an African American female and a registered Democrat, was working as a janitor at the Capitol. The then-Secretary of State saw her work ethic in action and offered her a job. She had been working at the Secretary of State’s Office ever since.

“She survived various administrations, and she always got good reviews,” Salango said. “The fact she was replaced with a 26-year-old white male Republican, who is paid the exact same amount, is appalling.”

Salango said all cases will likely be consolidated for discovery purposes, then tried separately in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

The former employees seek a trial by jury for lost wages and benefits, back pay, front pay and damages.

“At-will employment doesn’t give the employer free reign to discriminate,” Salango added. “Termination based on political affiliation for non-decision-making employees — it’s illegal. Period.”

The Secretary of State’s Office declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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