CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky denied the state Department of Health and Human Resources' motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by two of the agency's former lawyers.
Stucky also found that a search warrant used to search the offices of Susan Perry, Jennifer Taylor and former DHHR communications director John Law inappropriately violated their privacy and cast the plaintiffs in "an embarrassing and humiliating light."
And while Perry and Taylor were highly skilled, highly paid state employees, Stucky's order also shows they were given menial jobs upon their return to work after a five-month paid suspension.
Perry, Taylor and Law were suspended in mid-2012 after raising questions about a DHHR decision to award a marketing and advertising contract to the highest bidder, Ohio-based Fahlgren Mortine.
Agency officials originally alleged the trio had tried to favor the Charleston-based Arnold Agency, which narrowly lost the contract bid. Following a search of their homes, Kanawha Prosecutor Mark Plants said he found no evidence of criminal action.
Perry and Taylor are suing the DHHR for violating state whistleblower laws and also claim they were victims of gender-based discrimination.
In Stucky's most recent order, the judge writes that the DHHR had the search warrant published in news media outlets, violating the confidentiality policies and statutes of the Office of the Inspector General.
The warrant accused Perry, Taylor and Law of criminal conduct and "delved into personal matters not related to the investigation and implied possible criminal prosecution of all employees," Stucky wrote.
During the trio's suspension - called an "administrative reassignment" by the DHHR - each was instructed to work from home. But Stucky said they were prohibited from contact with other agency employees; the locks to their offices were changed; they were blocked from using their work email accounts; and access cards to the office and parking garage were confiscated.
If no work was assigned to the employees, they were expected to remain "on call" for eight hours on a given day.
Stucky's order said DHHR's restrictions on the employees "hampered their ability to perform their duties, caused them great embarrassment and humiliation and in some instances made their jobs impossible to perform."
Taylor and Perry were allowed to return to work in December 2012 but were not permitted to assume their former roles at the agency.
While Perry was paid more than $96,000 a year and Taylor was paid $90,000, the top-level lawyers were assigned to small, windowless cubicles where they performed hundreds of "document desk reviews" of Medicaid appeals, a job previously performed by a nurse, Stucky wrote.