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Public Employees Fired for Filing Whistleblower Suit

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Two Charleston, South Carolina airport employees were fired for filing a whistleblower-protection lawsuit because their public employer said it was improper for employees to sue the agency while working for it. The Charleston County Aviation Authority fired the two employees one week after they filed a lawsuit alleging that they were wrongfully demoted for raising concerns about spending irregularities and failures of the leaders of the agency to follow purchasing policies.

The complaint was filed on January 25, 2015 under South Carolina law in Karina Labossiere and Darla Seidel v. The Charleston County Airport District, Case No. 2016-CP-10-388, by former accounting assistants, Karina Labossiere and Darla Seidel. Their jobs were reclassified several grades below administrative assistance after the two plaintiffs started complaining about lack of adherence to procurement processes. As part of their job duties, the two plaintiffs were required to maintain accounts payable and receivable files, process payment, reconcile statements, analyze financial information, and ensure the purchase order process is followed.

The two former employees voiced concerns to supervisors about purchases made by the Administration Department without purchase orders in violation of the Procurement Manual. Some of these purchases also exceeded the amount the Director was authorized to spend without prior Board approval. In addition, the Administration Board allegedly routinely refused to submit required requisition forms and travel request forms for credit card charges, also a violation of the Procurement Manual. In alleged retaliation for reporting these violations of procurement practices and misuse of public funds to their supervisors, the agency accused the plaintiffs of behavioral problems, lowered their job grades, and denied their requests to have the lowering of their pay grades reviewed.

The agency claims that it fired the employees because it was improper for employees to work at an agency and sue the agency at the same time. The agency also claimed that the two former employees did not follow proper procedures to report the perceived irregularities. Under South Carolina state law, employers cannot fire an employee for filing a whistleblower complaint, unless the complaint is filed in bad faith.

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