Fired Pa. Department of Public Welfare workers file wrongful termination claim

Jon Campisi Nov. 18, 2011, 10:17am

Three Philadelphia women who allege they were unlawfully terminated from their respective positions with the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare have filed a civil action against the state agency and its acting secretary.

Philadelphia attorney Danny Elmore, of the law firm of Elmore, Pugh & Warren, P.C., filed the complaint Nov. 15 at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on behalf of Wanda Jones, Tanya Garnett and Anna Kelerikh.

The defendants named in the lawsuit are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and its acting secretary, Gary D. Alexander.

According to the complaint, the three plaintiffs were fired from their clerk positions on Jan. 25, 2008, for allegedly making and/or pinning Electronic Benefits Transaction cards used to obtain funds for two coworkers discovered to be relatives of a deceased welfare recipient.

The suit claims that the department was experiencing a rash of alleged fraud at the time, in which employees were allegedly creating the fake cards and false pin numbers for them in order to fraudulently provide funds to the coworkers who were supposedly receiving money that would have gone to the deceased recipient.

After discovering the fraud, the department conducted an investigation in which it was allegedly discovered that the three plaintiffs were involved in the fraud being perpetrated against the state agency, according to the lawsuit.

Investigators determined that the social security numbers and passwords of the three plaintiffs were used in connection with the alleged fraud.

After their termination, the plaintiffs appealed their agency’s decision to the state Civil Service Commission, which held hearings on the matter in June 13, 2008 and Aug. 6, 2008, the suit states.

During the hearings, it was argued that because the office manager at the division of the agency where the plaintiffs worked had access to the social security numbers and passwords of employees at the office, it was difficult to say for certain that the employees themselves took part in the alleged fraud.

But the office manager counter-argued that the social security numbers and passwords of employees were not, in fact, available to supervisors, the suit claims.

The Civil Service Commission subsequently ruled in favor of the defendant, and upheld the firings.

Then, on Oct. 23, 2009, a preliminary hearing was held in state court on the Department of Public Welfare allegation that the three fired employees actually committed a criminal act when they perpetrated the fraud against the agency, the lawsuit states.

During the hearing, an employee with the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General “exposed the false testimony of defendant,” arguing that despite the claims of the defendant, the social security numbers and passwords of agency employees were not kept confidential, and were indeed available to job supervisors, the suit states.

The investigator concluded that, in her opinion, the three employees committed no wrongdoing in regard to their employment with the Department of Public Welfare.

In addition to the wrongful termination claim, the lawsuit contains counts of Violation of Public Policy. The suit claims the three women suffered mental anguish, humiliation and pain and suffering as a result of their respective firings.

The plaintiffs seek judgment against the defendants in a sum in excess of $50,000, together with interest, attorney’s fees and other legal relief.

A jury trial is being demanded.

The case number is 111101190.

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