St. Clair County workers who alerted feds to alleged discrimination now fired, suspended

News-DemocratMarch 29, 2014 

A St. Clair County employee who asked federal officials to investigate whether the county discriminated against disabled people was fired and another employee has filed an additional state complaint alleging continued retaliation from county officials.

The U.S. Department of Labor began investigating in May whether the county's Intergovernmental Grants Department discriminated against disabled residents and the department's executive director, Debra Moore, punished three county employees for exposing the alleged discrimination.

Moore could not be reached for comment Friday. She previously said the department does not discriminate and she has not retaliated against employees.

Two of the three employees, Stephanie Webly and Roshanda Peppers, say they have been the target of retaliation since alerting state and federal officials of the discrimination. The third employee, Melinda Nicholson, previously said she left her supervisor position with the county because Moore created a hostile work environment.

Now Moore has fired Peppers, directing two St. Clair County Sheriff deputies to escort her from the building on March 18, and Webly says she has been disciplined for filing an additional complaint with state officials.

"The retaliation escalated to an excessive level that led to a wrongful termination," Peppers said. She declined to comment further.

Webly filed a complaint against the county with the Illinois Department of Human Rights on March 5. County officials learned of the complaint on Monday, then disciplined Webly on Wednesday, Webly said.

Webly said she was improperly reprimanded and given a one-day suspension without pay because another employee placed a client in a program that was not approved. Webly said it is not her responsibility to ensure programs are approved.

Webly believes the reprimand is part of a campaign by county officials to terminate her employment.

"I'm not letting it go away. It's not right. They are not above the law," Webly said of the additional complaint. "I'm going to continue to believe that. As long as there is a breath in my body, it's not going to go away."

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity previously determined county employees denied qualified, disabled residents help through a federally funded training program. State investigators found 21 of the 1,426 people, about 2 percent, enrolled in the program disclosed a disability to county officials in 2010 and 2011.

State officials also concluded Moore fired Webly in 2012 in retaliation for reporting the discrimination and ordered county officials to reinstate her with backpay.

Webly and Peppers said U.S. Department of Labor officials have contacted them. A Department of Labor spokesman could not be reached for comment.

A fourth employee of the grants department has filed complaints with state and federal officials alleging county officials discriminated against the disabled, misused federal funds, violated state policy regarding the training program and retaliated against her.

Vickie Harvey, a former compliance specialist with the department, said she was suspended without pay for a week and later fired in retaliation for filing complaints with the federal Department of Labor and Illinois Department of Labor.

Harvey said she filed the complaints in June and July of last year after Moore and her subordinates began retaliating against her because she refused to give daily reports on Webly's activities. When Harvey refused, she was given the suspension. She was fired in October.

"Moore said I needed to make a decision as to whether I'm going to be a team player or not. I told her I'm not your watchdog, and by having me report on Webly she had stopped me from doing my job out in the field doing compliance work," Harvey said.

 

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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