A fake Facebook message that was intended to discredit and remove from office an administrative law judge in 2017 has since become her personal mantra, the judge said in court Monday.
On Monday, Chief Administrative Law Judge Rebecca Roush said a disgruntled employee sent the message, “Wrong woman. I don’t lose,” and set off a chain of events that she said was a clear attempt to remove her from office and involved officials in Gov. Jim Justice’s office in what she said was an effort to potentially destroy the litigation system for workers’ compensation in West Virginia.
Nancy Lorraine Workman, a former Workers’ Compensation Office employee, pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor harassment by electronic communication device as part of a plea deal before Kanawha Circuit Judge Joanna Tabit.
Tabit sentenced Workman to one year of probation and ordered her to pay restitution to Roush for her legal costs to combat allegations against her, which Roush said Monday were at about $65,000.
Workman’s actions in attempting to retaliate against Roush had nearly ruined Roush’s career, Tabit told Workman during the hearing.
“The biggest attribute an attorney can have is his or her reputation,” Tabit said in handing down her ruling. “Once you lose that, you have nothing, and you stripped her of that. That is troublesome to me, extremely troublesome to me.”
Following the hearing, the courtroom bailiff briefly kept Workman’s adult daughter in a holding area for Tabit’s courtroom after Kanawha Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Chris Krivonyak said she had approached him and told him he “should be ashamed” of himself.
Workman originally was indicted on the misdemeanor charge and felony charges of forgery, uttering and computer fraud. The felony charges were dropped as part of her plea deal.
Krivonyak said Workman created a fake Facebook account in Roush’s name on Dec. 13, 2017, and sent the “wrong woman” message to herself.
On Dec. 14, 2017, Workman presented the message to human resources staff and Workers’ Compensation officials, saying Roush sent the message to her in retaliation for a workplace grievance Workman filed against Roush.
Workman was one of 10 people who applied to be the office manager in the Workers’ Compensation Office between July and November 2017, but Workman was not selected for the position, Roush said.
Shortly thereafter, Workman filed a grievance alleging that she wasn’t selected because of favoritism.
Workman presented the fake Facebook message to officials on Dec. 14 of that year and, by Dec. 20, Roush said, she had a meeting with then-Insurance Commissioner Allan McVey and two other staff members about the message.
Justice appointed McVey as secretary of the Department of Administration earlier this year.
Roush denied sending the message the first time she was made aware of it and had done so ever since.
On Dec. 22, 2017, Roush met with officials in the Governor’s Office, which she said was an “odd day” for a meeting since it was a half-day for state employees ahead of the Christmas holiday.
She said the governor’s general counsel told her that, if she didn’t resign, “that I would be publicly humiliated.”
Brian Abraham, the governor's general counsel, “categorically denied” making such a threat to Roush during the meeting.
At the time the allegation regarding the Facebook message were made against Roush, it was perceived the information was accurate and the information showing the message was fake had not come forward, Abraham said Tuesday.
“I made the comment if those accusations were leveled at me, I might resign rather than face public scrutiny and at no way at any time threatened her because we had no power to do anything," Abraham said. "We have not done anything publicly to her, nor would I have."
Roush said that, during the Dec. 20 meeting and throughout the grievance process, officials gave credit to Workman’s account that Roush had sent her the message.
“I was told by the H.R. director that they didn’t know Nancy to lie, and she was a good employee,” Roush said. “I specifically asked if she was calling me a liar, to which she shrugged her shoulders.”
Workman and McVey were friends, and Workman also had a personal friendship with McVey’s son-in-law, Roush said during the sentencing hearing Monday.
McVey’s son-in-law also was an employee in the Workers’ Compensation Office and had applied, but was denied, the office manager job in 2017, Roush said.
She said McVey initially blocked an investigation that she had requested from the West Virginia Office of Information Technology, and she filed a report with the West Virginia State Police.
It was the State Police’s investigation that ultimately led to charges being filed against Workman.
The investigation, Roush said, found that Workman had set up a Facebook account for “Amy France” in 2011 using her personal email address.
The State Police issued warrants to Facebook, which provided information that showed Workman changed the “Amy France” account to make it appear to be Roush’s Facebook account on Dec. 12, 2017, and sent the fake message the next day.
Roush said she was denied a hearing in 2017 before the Workers’ Compensation Industrial Council before officials with the state attempted to take steps to terminate her. The council is the only body that lawfully can terminate the employment of an administrative judge in the Workers’ Compensation Office.
Roush had to file a lawsuit against the state in Kanawha Circuit Court to earn that hearing.
The day of Roush’s hearing before the board, Roush said, other employees told her Workman and her friends had what they’d called a “Day of Reckoning” lunch at a Charleston restaurant “toasting my demise.”
On March 8, 2018, the council opted to admonish Roush but let her return to work after 2½ months of suspension, but not until after the hearing in which Roush said her internal work emails were heavily scrutinized and critiqued and “embarrassing facts were grossly exaggerated and mischaracterized to make a more compelling story.”
“The state’s lawyers definitely carried through with their threat of public humiliation,” Roush said.
Roush said that, on first day back to work, Workman caused an “absolute melee,” which included trashing another employee’s desk.
“This was the true Nancy,” Roush said. “She continued to get away with behavior, with the support of her friends in higher power turning a blind eye to her behavior, that would get her fired in any other office in the state.”
Workman remained an employee at the Workers’ Compensation Office until March 6 of this year, when she resigned from her job, Roush said. She agreed to plead guilty to the misdemeanor charge against her on March 8, according to court records.
Roush’s term as administrative judge is set to expire at the end of this year, and she said she doesn’t anticipate that she’ll be reappointed. Instead, she’s started looking for other jobs, but she said she’s had trouble getting interviews because of the ripple effect of Workman’s fake Facebook message.
“Needless to say, the plea agreement does not adequately address the carnage,” Roush said.
She and the citizens of West Virginia are the victims, Roush said Monday. After she was reinstated, Roush said, McVey and the state Department of Personnel demoted 25 employees in the Workers’ Compensation Office, causing them to look for other work to get back to their previous pay grade.
“There are still many unanswered questions as to why there has been this focus on destroying the litigation system for Workers’ Compensation,” Roush said. “The bottom line is, our citizens, the litigants, deserve better.”
Note: This story was updated on April 2, 2019 to add comments from Brian Abraham, general counsel to Gov. Jim Justice.