Two months ago, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner lost the first lawsuit to former employees who were wrongfully fired when he took office in January 2017. Here is how the Charleston Gazette-Mail described it last month:
The lawsuits stem from Warner’s firing of 16 rank-and-file employees in the secretary of state’s office, consisting of 15 registered Democrats and one independent. He replaced the 16, who had more than 200 years combined experience in state government, with a total of 23 new hires, all of whom were either registered Republicans or had ties to conservative political organizations, the lawsuits contend. The new hires also had little or no governmental experience.
Twelve of the 16 fired employees filed wrongful termination suits against Warner in August 2017, with all alleging they were fired because of their political affiliations, and some also claiming gender discrimination, age discrimination and/or racial discrimination.
(I wrote about it here).
The first four plaintiffs were awarded a million dollars. Warner claimed that the Board of Risk and Insurance Management (BRIM) should not have settled and that he would have won the suit.
Earlier this week, the second group of lawsuits was settled. As WV MetroNews reports:
According to Warner, BRIM has negotiated settlements for 10 remaining cases totaling more than $3 million.
Once again, Warner did not want BRIM to settle:
He asked BRIM to take each case before a jury, arguing the employees were on at-will status.
“Agency heads and employees alike have the discretion to terminate ‘at will’ employment. Any change to that interpretation is a legislative decision, not BRIM’s,” he said in a release Friday.
Sorry, Mr. Secretary, not only would the state probably have lost more than the $4 million you've already cost them, but a legislative committee has already debated your suggestion and made no changes:
State lawmakers debated who should have final say-so on settlements during interim meetings earlier this month, although a policy change was not made.
And so our Secretary of State has cost the state $4 million dollars on what should have been clear from the beginning -- you can't fire civil servants just because they're not Republican. Finally, am I in the wrong state or didn't the legislature recently get rid of a couple of judges recently for wasting far less money? Just asking.
Something to watch for is how this will be handled by our local Ogden papers who went out of their way to support Warner on the previous settlement. Of particular interest is one of the likely members of the second group: Sam Speciale. In early October, Phil Kabler at the Charleston Gazette-Mail wrote:
The first fired employee whose case is set to go to trial is Sam Speciale, who was a press secretary under former Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.
In the deposition, Warner said one of the reasons Speciale was fired was because he felt the communications division had been overly geared to promoting Tennant.
Who was his replacement? Steven Allen Adams, who since this summer, has been the state political reporter for Ogden Newspapers. And why was Adams more qualified?
Arguably, what Adams had that Speciale lacked was conservative bona fides. He published the West Virginia Watchdog blog beginning in 2009, a blog that according to Columbia Journalism Review was funded by the conservative Franklin Center and the Public Policy Center of West Virginia.
And now, Adams works for Ogden and he made only a vague "I worked in state government" when he introduced himself to local readers back in June. Yes, it will be interesting to see how our local "newspapers" cover this story.