West Virginia’s top workers’ compensation judge says state officials retaliated against her after she worked to close payment discrepancies between female and male employees in her office.
In a lawsuit filed in Kanawha Circuit Court, Chief Administrative Judge Rebecca Roush says officials also retaliated against her because she did not give a promotion to a Nancy Lorraine Workman, who earlier this year was convicted of making a fake Facebook message in an attempt to get Roush fired.
The lawsuit summarizes the last roughly two years during which Roush authored a pay discrepancy memo, was accused of sending the Facebook message and suspended, ultimately restored to her post, and found to have committed no wrongdoing. She alleges violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act and gender discrimination.
Roush also says former insurance commissioner Allen McVey stopped an investigation into the Facebook message the day after Roush asked the state Office of Information Technology to investigate it.
Gov. Jim Justice appointed McVey as secretary of the state Department of Administration in January. In that position, McVey oversees most of the offices that Roush dealt with during the times described in the lawsuit.
Roush alleges McVey’s promotion and the actions of personnel in the Offices of the Insurance Commissioner has interfered with the autonomy of the office and “negatively impacted workers’ compensation litigants in the State of West Virginia.”
“[The West Virginia Offices of the Insurance Commissioner] usurped the power of Plaintiff as Chief Judge...to retaliate against her, to sabotage her administration and also to influence the litigation system to its benefit,” Roush said in the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Roush notes that she has been informed by state officials that she will not be re-appointed to her current position, which she’s held since 2008. Her employment will end on Nov. 30, she said in the lawsuit.
Roush is represented in the lawsuit by Richard Neely, with Neely & Callaghan in Charleston.
In 2014, Roush wrote a memo in which she described pay discrepancies between men and women and data relevant to that point.
The memo eventually became evidence in a federal civil lawsuit brought by three other women who were administrative judges in 2016, Roush said in the lawsuit.
Court records show the state settled the lawsuit in 2018, paying out a total of $55,000 to the three judges. The state also paid $45,000 in attorney’s fees and a little more than $12,000 in court costs.
On Dec. 20, 2017, Roush said McVey accused her of sending a Facebook message to Nancy Workman that said, “Wrong woman. I don’t lose.”
At the time, Workman had a pending grievance pending against Roush because she believed Roush had passed over her for a promotion.
Roush denied sending the message, and she requested the state Office of Information Technology conduct an investigation into the message on Dec. 20.
On Dec. 21, 2017, Roush received an email saying the IT office had closed its investigation.
Roush later learned that McVey interfered in the investigation, leading to it ending, she says in the complaint.
An investigation by the West Virginia State Police revealed that Workman had made a fake Facebook account, sent the message to herself and presented it to state officials.
On Dec. 22, 2017, Roush met with officials in the Governor’s Office, where she said the governor’s general counsel, Brian Abraham told her that, if she didn’t resign, “he would see to it that [Roush] was ‘publicly humiliated.’”
Abraham previously has denied that he made such a comment to Roush. In April, he told the Gazette-Mail that he told Roush that if such accusations were leveled at him, that he would resign rather than face public scrutiny.
At the end of that meeting, McVey suspended Roush without pay, and she was escorted from state property by two armed fraud investigators.
State law holds only the state Industrial Council can remove an administrative judge. The council initially planned to vote on Roush’s termination during an executive session, outside of public view, but Roush filed a lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court and won the right to a public hearing in March 2018.
Workman in March 2019 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 were at about $65,000 at the time.
During Workman’s sentencing hearing in March, Roush said Workman and McVey were friends, and Workman also had a personal friendship with McVey’s son-in-law.
Roush is seeking damages for lost wages and benefits and for emotional and mental distress.
The case has been assigned to Tabit.