A former state employee contends in a federal lawsuit she was forced to resign because she wouldn’t contribute to the election campaign of Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
Christine Taul alleges in the lawsuit that she was “constructively” discharged by Patronis from her position as risk-management program administrator in the Department of Financial Services for “associating with a political party different than that which defendant Patronis is a member and not associating with defendant Patronis.”
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee.
A spokeswoman for Patronis, a Republican, dismissed the lawsuit as “completely false.”
“This employee was notified she was being fired with cause due to multiple failures to do her job dating back several months,” the spokeswoman, Anna Farrar, said in an email.
The agency contends Taul, who had held the position for about 24 years, resigned when notified she was being terminated.
Gov. Rick Scott last year appointed Patronis to the Cabinet post after former CFO Jeff Atwater resigned to take a position at Florida Atlantic University. Patronis is running for a full term in Tuesday’s election and faces a challenge from Democrat Jeremy Ring.
In the lawsuit, Taul, a Democrat, alleges that after not attending an August fundraiser in Tallahassee for Patronis she was given a day to resign or be “categorized as a terminated employee.”
The suit said Taul got “superior job performance reviews” and her “supervisor did not express [any] displeasure with plaintiff’s job performance.”
The suit also claims the agency allows “politics to drive the adjudication and resolution of claims and litigation against the state of Florida.”
Farrar released agency paperwork indicating Taul was required to attend remedial training in April for falsifying a subordinate’s time sheet. Also released was a Sept. 5 letter to Taul’s attorney that contends the agency had no knowledge of a phone call regarding a fundraiser or contribution.
“Stated plainly, the allegations of campaign-related activity by some unnamed and unknown third party cannot be imputed to the department or the chief financial officer based upon your, or Ms. Taul’s, erroneous assumptions,” said the letter to Tallahassee attorney Steven Andrews, who has been retained by Taul.
Andrews has been involved in a number of high-profile cases involving state government.
Andrews’ law firm, for example, has represented dozens of state workers who said they were sickened by a building, leased by several state agencies, that was alleged to have been infested with toxins, mold and bat guano.
Andrews also represented whistleblowers at a North Florida prison who said they were punished by their bosses after exposing abuse of inmates, including an instance where one guard sprayed noxious chemicals into a prisoner’s mouth, according to an investigation by the state’s Commission on Human Relations.
In 2015, Scott agreed to pay Andrews $700,000 in taxpayer money to settle a public-records dispute concerning a piece of property, adjacent to Andrews’ law office near a historical site known as The Grove.
Jim Turner reports for the News Service of Florida.