Government, News

Former Secretary of State employees settle wrongful termination lawsuit for $1M; Warner says firing was warranted

CHARLESTON — Secretary of State Mac Warner said Monday he continues to stand behind his decisions to fire 16 workers shortly after taking office in 2017 even if the state insurance company doesn’t.
Warner’s comments came hours after it was announced the state Board of Risk and Insurance Management had decided to settle four of the 12 lawsuits filed against Warner.

“The way this State handles lawsuits by way of insurance settlements needs to be completely redone,” Warner said in a statement, calling on the state legislature to revamp the process.

Currently when an agency head is sued the case goes directly to BRIM and the elected official or agency head doesn’t have a say in whether a lawsuit should be settled.

“It’s a process with no oversight, where the lawyers keep getting richer off the deep pockets of the state, the state’s insurance carrier and the taxpayers,” Warner said.

According to Warner, BRIM spends an average of $12.5 million year in settling employment-type lawsuits.

Mark Atkinson, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the cases that settled out court, said their cases were strong and Warner violated the rights of the workers.

“Not one of those 16 people was a Republican. Twenty-three people were hired. The secretary of state has admitted all of those 23 people who were hired were Republicans or had conservative ties,” Atkinson said. “That’s about as clear-cut as it could be, isn’t it?”

Elected officials cannot fire people for political reasons who do the day-to-day work of the office, Atkinson said.

“That’s what these people were doing,” he said.

The four cases settled with BRIM for a total of $1 million. Atkinson said they were first to settle because they were the first scheduled for trial. The remaining eight are scheduled for trial beginning next month.

Warner hasn’t given a lot of reasoning for the firings. He has said his office needed the change in order to move things forward. He didn’t specifically address the issue in Monday’s statement, choosing rather to call for a change in how lawsuits are settled.

“The Legislature must give public officials the ability to make decisions on how lawsuits are resolved since we are ultimately responsible to the voters for the decisions we make – and I continue to stand by my decisions – even if the insurance company doesn’t want to,” Warner said.