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DHHR administrators sue agency over suspensions

Two state Department of Health and Human Resources administrators placed on leave in July after raising issues over a DHHR advertising and marketing contract sued acting DHHR Secretary Rocco Fucillo and others on Tuesday. The administrators say they were victims of illegal reprisals for their efforts as whistleblowers.

In separate complaints in Kanawha Circuit Court, DHHR attorneys Susan Perry and Jennifer Taylor argue they have been subjected to illegal reprisals, public humiliation and damage to their professional reputations for attempting the honest performance of their duties as DHHR lawyers.

The lawsuits contend the two, along with DHHR communications director John Law, were reprimanded for raising concerns about inconsistencies in the evaluation and scoring of the bid packages for the advertising contract.

Those concerns were heightened by the DHHR's pattern of mishandling previous bids, including a contract for a multimillion-dollar Medicaid Management Information System, where the request for bids had to be recalled and resubmitted three times, prompting an investigation by the state legislative auditor.

According to the complaints, Perry asked Taylor to review the score sheets for the advertising bid packages to determine whether they could provide grounds for the successful protest of the awarding of the contract by any of the bidders, which could delay the awarding of the contract and prompt legal costs.

Taylor prepared a spreadsheet comparing each vendor's response and score for each item on the RFP. The spreadsheet was blind, in that the names of the vendors were omitted.

Taylor's analysis, according to the suit, found major inconsistencies in scoring, with some vendors losing no points for failing to fully provide requested information and work samples, while others had points deducted for the same or similar omissions.

In raising concerns, Taylor described the scoring as "a poster child for arbitrary and capricious," according to the complaints.

When they raised concerns with Warren Keefer, DHHR deputy secretary for administration, and Bryan Rosen, DHHR purchasing director, Perry and Taylor were told they could be charged with the criminal offense of interfering with the awarding of a state contract, according to the complaints.

In response, they said they were not concerned about which vendor was awarded the contract, but wanted the process to be conducted correctly so the DHHR could be defended in the event of a vendor protest or lawsuit.

According to the complaints, the issue came up in a July 13 conference call with Fucillo, who was working out of the DHHR's Fairmont office, and Fucillo advised he would discuss the matter with them on July 16.

Instead, on that date, Perry, Taylor and Law were placed on administrative leave, barred from DHHR offices, had their e-mail accounts blocked, and were prohibited from contacting DHHR staffers at the workplace, according to the suit.

Also, Perry and Taylor allege that Fucillo ordered an investigation by the DHHR Office of Inspector General, "undertaken in bad faith, with malice, and the intent to retaliate and engage in reprisal against (Perry and Taylor) for their actions as whistle-blowers."

The suit contends they were the subject of a "purported search warrant" which they argue misrepresented facts surrounding the RFP review, and which essentially accuse Perry and Taylor of criminal conduct.

In the complaints, filed by attorney Walt Auvil, Perry and Taylor seek punitive damages as well as damages for mental anguish, embarrassment, and damage to their professional reputations.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.

 


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