HUNTINGTON – A former employee is suing Cabell County Commission after he claims his employment was terminated because he cooperated with an investigation into the county’s finances.
Beth Thompson and Phyllis Smith were also named as defendants in the suit.
Jason Nichols was employed with Smith and the commission as a deputy clerk from August 2015 until Jan. 8, according to a complaint filed Feb. 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
Nichols claims as a deputy clerk, he was charged with responsibility for administrative and ministerial tasks related to Cabell County’s budget.
The plaintiff reported to County Clerk Karen Cole until August 2017, and, after her death, reported to Smith, according to the suit.
Beginning in Spring 2017, the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney of Cabell County has been conducting an ongoing investigation of the financial affairs of the county and, the scope of that investigation has increased over time due in part to reports made by the plaintiff to the POA, according to the suit.
Nichols claims he reported several instances of suspected misconduct to the OPA and made these reports outside of his normal duties and as a citizen and taxpayer of Cabell County.
The plaintiff also reported to members of the OPA his concern that Cabell County taxpayers were paying large amounts of insurance for approximately $30 million of fixed assets, where there had been no physical audit of the fixed assets to even verify if all such assets existed, according to the suit.
Nichols claims he also reported that Thompson had stated that Cabell County employees were going to be required to pay more for medical insurance and that the required “increases” appeared to be unwarranted because the county had been given a refund on claims the previous year and the account holding the self-insured medical insurance funds contained an excessive amount of funds.
In December, the OPA issued a West Virginia Freedom of Information Act request for information surrounding some of the issues Nichols had raised and, approximately one week before the plaintiff was fired, Smith learned from the chief deputy clerk that the plaintiff had been assisting with the preparation of documents in response to the FOIA request, according to the suit.
At that time, the chief deputy clerk also informed Smith that a member of the OPA had come and spoken with the plaintiff in his office, according to the suit. In response, Smith cautioned the chief deputy clerk that if anyone from the OPA came in the future, the OPA member should be directed to come to her personally and not Nichols.
Nichols claims on Jan. 8, a meeting was held and he expressed concerns over the outsourcing of the payroll function and how that would be implemented in compliance with the law. After this, Thompson became visibly agitated and told the plaintiff he was no longer needed.
Just hours before the plaintiff was preparing to release documents to the OPA in response to the FOIA request, Smith informed the plaintiff that his employment was terminated and when he asked with, Smith told him that they did not have to give him a reason.
Nichols is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. He is being represented by Maria W. Hughes and Mark Golder of Hughes & Goldner.
U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number: 3:18-cv-00266