Whistleblower Awarded $2 Million for Retaliation by Kentucky Child Protection Agency

Whistleblower retaliation awards.

 

A jury has awarded $2 million in damages to a Northern Kentucky social services worker who alleged in a whistleblower lawsuit he suffered extensive retaliation for reporting problems at the state’s child protection agency.

Among his claims: Nearly 100 cases of child abuse and neglect were misplaced and languished for months, leaving some children stuck in abusive or neglectful situations with no investigation.

The verdict in Boone Circuit Court comes seven years after Tim Williams, a social services supervisor, first reported in early 2015 that children suffered from serious mismanagement of cases amid chronic staffing shortages.

Williams, who was back on the job Tuesday after last week’s trial, said he’s just grateful the jury heard and believed him.

“All 12 jurors heard the evidence,” Williams said. “All 12 believed it happened.”

Kelly Wiley, Williams’ lawyer, said the retaliation included incessant harassment by supervisors who focused on silencing him rather than looking to the needs of children, including those affected after 93 cases of alleged neglect or abuse were misplaced.

“He blew the whistle on 93 children who were left in pretty dire situations for months,” Wiley said.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which includes social services, provided a statement saying that officials “disagree” with the jury verdict.

“We are reviewing the record of the trial and considering all of our legal options, including post-trial action and an appeal,” said a statement provided by spokeswoman Susan Dunlap. “While the lawsuit alleges events during a prior administration, we are committed to supporting our employees and residents in the communities we serve.”

Williams’ allegations, detailed in an April 27, 2015, letter to top officials at the cabinet, said the 93 misplaced cases included reports of children present at fatal drug overdoses, young children locked out of their home searching for food and shelter at an apartment complex and lack of follow-up for newborns with drugs in their system.

He cited “atrocious” employee turnover, and a backlog of more than 1,000 cases considered past deadline because of staff shortages.

After Williams filed his whistleblower lawsuit alleging retaliation, cabinet officials said they planned to look into conditions in the Northern Kentucky social services region.

The cabinet’s Department for Community Based Services oversees child abuse, neglect, foster care, and adoption and has been plagued for decades by low pay, chronic staffing shortages, and high turnover.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear sought to address the problem last year by reclassifying many social service workers into higher pay grades with a 10% pay increase.

This year, lawmakers provided raises to most state workers, including social workers, after rejecting Beshear’s request that they provide higher salaries for social services staff in the two previous budgets.

Williams said staffing shortages continue to be a problem in his Northern Kentucky region.

“We just don’t have enough workers,” he said.

But Williams said he no longer experiences the harassment he endured for months after he first tried to alert higher-ups at the agency about the problems.

“It was a constant barrage of emails from supervisors, asking ‘where are you, what are you doing?'” he said; supervisors cut the staff he supervised, he said, and at one point, he was temporarily locked out of the building when the lock code was changed and not provided to him. His caseloads were doubled in an office already struggling with high caseloads.

“It was like they wanted to shut me up and get me out of there,” he said.

Some of the supervisors he alleged were responsible have retired or been reassigned.

Williams said he plans to keep working.

“I enjoy the work,” he said. “I enjoy helping families. I like to see them change if they’re able to change.”

Read the original article by Deborah Yetter.

Helmer Friedman LLP helping you navigate through the state and federal whistleblower programs that may reward you for reporting fraud.

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