State worker files suit after $75,000 settlement from 2008
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A public employee who received a $75,000 settlement in 2008 after threatening to sue the state for sexual discrimination and workplace retaliation is now suing the state for discrimination and retaliation.
Carolyn A. Hefner, an employee of the West Virginia Conservation Agency, previously alleged she'd had an ongoing series of sexual encounters with longtime Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass.
Hefner felt she had to continue the relationship to avoid retaliation, according to a 2008 complaint that was apparently never filed in court.
The agency promotes soil and water conservation. Douglass sits on the committee that oversees the board.
Douglass denied the allegations when they were made, but the state Board of Risk Insurance Management paid Hefner $75,000 to settle the case.
Now, Hefner, 63, alleges her gender and the 2008 case have cost her a promotion at the conservation agency.
Hefner alleges the agency failed to promote her "because of her sex" and "in retaliation for filing a previous claim," according to a lawsuit filed in mid-July in Kanawha Circuit Court.
The Ranson Law Offices and The Webb Law Firm represent Hefner. The lawsuit names the agency and the committee that oversees it.
The Conservation Agency, represented by Steptoe and Johnson, is trying to get the case dismissed on a technicality and has not commented on its merits or substance. Hefner did not provide the state 30 days notice of her intent to sue, a court filing by the agency said.
The particulars of Hefner's 2008 legal complaint and alleged encounters with Douglass have never officially been made public, though they've been the subjects of several media reports. A document that appears to be the claim is marked "Confidential Do Not File" and was obtained several years ago by a few media outlets.
The risk management board, which is the state's insurance agency, settled the 2008 matter after Hefner notified state officials she intended to sue.
In the settlement, Hefner promised she would not bring further action "in any way relating to any injuries and damages claimed by (Hefner) in connection with any and all actions that I alleged have been undertaken by Gus Douglass against me individually and in my professional capacity . . ."
In the new lawsuit, she said she was passed over for the executive director's job despite being, by her account, the "most qualified" person for the job.
Brian Farkas, current executive director, did not comment on the lawsuit because it's pending litigation.
Michael Ranson, one of Hefner's attorneys, did not return a message left at his office Friday seeking comment.