CHARLESTON - Two former employees of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources have filed suits against the department, claiming their funds were withheld after filing sexual harassment suits against other DHHR employees.
Attorney Jane Moran filed two suits July 27 in Kanawha Circuit Court on behalf of Leora Long and Rhonda Baker.
The suits are against the DHHR and several employees of the office. Specifically named as defendants are DHHR Secretary Martha Yeager Walker, Commissioner Margaret Waybright, Director of Customer Services James Kautz, Supervisor of Client Services Betty Jo Scarberry and Customer Service Center Supervisor Donnie Harris.
According to the suits, Long and Baker both were employed by DHHR as Economic Services Workers for more than six years. In January 2003, both were assigned to the Customer Service Center in Kanawha County. In January 2007, Long was transferred to the Putnam County office, and Baker was transferred to the Fayette County office.
Both women were part of a group that filed a sexual harassment suit against the DHHR, Secretary Paul Nusbaum, Commissioner Margaret Waybright and Director James Kautz in 2004.
As a part of their jobs, both Long and Baker were required to do significant loads paperwork, and perform a substantial amount of record keeping and accounting, the suits say.
On Oct. 31, 2006, both women were called into Kautz's office with Scarberry and Forrest Holley. According to the suits, they were told they had made mistakes on certain forms.
Kautz then allegedly said his was considering disciplinary action against each woman. Two weeks later, he gave each woman a letter stating she would be suspended for 10 days without pay.
According to the suits, employee performance reviews were done several days before the meeting with Kautz. On both reviews, no reference was made to the alleged errors on any forms.
Also, the suits say Kautz was "actively involved in negotiations to settle the sexual harassment lawsuit" brought by the women and several other co-workers. That case was dismissed March 14, 2007.
Both women were suspended for 10 days without pay starting Nov. 20, 2006. Both women expressed their dismay, and their suspensions were changed to five days without pay starting after the Christmas holiday.
The women returned to work but claim they did not receive a paycheck. According to the suit, both women contacted Gov. Joe Manchin's office and a check was delivered, but for less that they were owed. Baker claims her check was $100 less and Long claims her check was $500 less than she was owed.
According to the suit, the women were discriminated against because they filed the sexual harassment suit, which is a violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act.
Long and Baker both seek to be reinstated for the 10 days suspended without pay, the wages lost as a result of the suspensions, any benefits lost and compensatory and punitive damages.
Kanawha Circuit Court case numbers: 07-C-1572 (Long) and 07-C-1573 (Baker)