Donna Sisk has filed suit against the Madison County government, saying she was wrongfully fired as the county’s human resources director last May.
Janet E. Hill, Sisk’s attorney, wrote in a complaint filed in Madison County Superior Court May 13 of this year, that Sisk’s firing was a violation of the Georgia Whistleblower Act.
“Defendant’s termination of Plaintiff’s (Sisk’s) employment was an act of retaliation from Plaintiff’s disclosures of waste, abuse and violations of law, rules and regulations … specifically including Plaintiff’s report to the sheriff’s department that employees had submitted fraudulent time sheets and also that the tax commissioner had illegally changed time records, which resulted in at least one employee being improperly paid,” wrote Hill.
Former tax commissioner Louise Watson, who announced her retirement several months ago, and officially stepped down May 31, could not be reached this week for comment.
County commission chairman Anthony Dove, who fired Sisk last year, said he disputed the version of events laid out in the lawsuit.
“We certainly disagree with the complaint and we’ve handed it over to our defense counsel and they’ll handle it from here,” said Dove, declining to speak more on the specifics of the suit. The county is represented by Phillip Friduss of Landrum Friduss and Ash LLC.
Hill wrote that Sisk was simply trying to perform her duties as the county’s human resources director when she was terminated.
“Defendant’s actions, by and through its agents, were willful, wanton and intentionally directed to harm the Plaintiff,” wrote Hill. “…As a result of Defendant’s conduct, Plaintiff has suffered loss of wages and benefits, loss of stature with respect to her position in the community, and suffered mental and emotional distress.”
Sisk is demanding a trial by jury and seeking to be reinstated as the county’s human resources director and awarded pay for the time she has been gone from the position. She is also seeking compensatory damages in an amount determined by a jury, as well as coverage of her attorney’s fees. She asks for an injunction “prohibiting Defendant from further retaliation against Plaintiff.”
Sisk was terminated from her position last May and county clerk Linda Cox was transferred to a position with the Northern Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s office.
The two personnel actions followed several weeks of controversy in the BOC office. Dove suspended both employees shortly after learning that the sheriff’s department had conducted video surveillance of two other employees in the BOC office: finance director Kathy Clark and purchasing agent Cheryl Jensrud.
Sisk said she asked the sheriff’s department to investigate potential time sheet fraud after seeing Clark leave at a time that she said didn’t match her time sheets. The sheriff’s department concluded that there were three 30-minute discrepancies on three dates, where the government complex security camera showed Clark leaving at a time that didn’t match her time sheet. The sheriff’s department didn’t find any time sheet discrepancies for Jensrud.
Dove disputed the sheriff’s office conclusions, saying that phone and computer records actually showed that she was at her desk at the times in question, which he said amounted to $28 in pay.
The chairman said Cox didn’t notify him of an open records request from the sheriff’s department for time records on Clark and Jensrud. He said he had trust issues with Cox because of her failure to notify him. He said he felt Sisk, whose husband works at the county jail, shouldn’t be able to summon the power of the sheriff’s office to investigate anyone at any time.
Sisk said she and Clark have had personality conflicts but that this didn’t interfere with her doing her job. Both Sisk and Clark adamantly denied any wrongdoing and said they were simply upholding the duties of their office.
“I have retained my dignity and professionalism throughout this whole episode and I will be fine,” said Cox in a letter she read at BOC meeting following her transfer. “I am holding my head high without any regrets, because I have done nothing wrong. I was following the Attorney General of the State of Georgia laws on the Open Records Act.”
Sisk also voiced her views in writing last year.
“As the H.R. director of the Madison County BOC, it is my duty to ensure that the time sheets are an accurate representation of hours worked,” wrote Sisk. “If I feel that employees are falsifying their time, it is also my duty to verify this before making accusations. I take full responsibility for asking the sheriff’s office to assist me in this task…. I enjoy the position of human resources, I take my job seriously, and if I’m going to be terminated for doing my job — well, if you lay your head down at night and sleep, you better believe I can.”