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Former Berkeley County employee files lawsuit for wrongful termination

April 13, 2012|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A former county employee has filed a lawsuit in Berkeley County Circuit Court, claiming she was terminated because she discovered property was wrongly classified for tax-assessment purposes and reported it.

Attorney Harry P. Waddell filed the lawsuit Monday on behalf of Sharon Chaffee, who was dismissed in October 2011 from her job as a transfer clerk in the Berkeley County Assessor’s Office, according to Waddell’s six-page complaint.

The Berkeley County Council, Gearl Raynes, in his official capacity as the county’s assessor, and former Assessor Patricia “Patsy” Kilmer were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Chaffee has asked the court for monetary damages, reinstatement of employment, reinstatement of all fringe benefits and seniority rights, back wages, future lost earnings and benefits in lieu of reinstatement, general damages and attorneys fees and court costs.

Council attorney Norwood Bentley III said this week that he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment.

Raines said he also hadn’t reviewed the complaint, but said the matter didn’t involve any action he had taken.

“(Chaffee) was gone before I showed up, so I had nothing to do with it,” Raines said.

Kilmer, who declined to comment, said she was unaware that the lawsuit had been filed.

Chaffee was hired in July 2008 by the late Preston B. Gooden, who died in February 2009, shortly after being reelected as assessor, according to the lawsuit.

Chaffee claims her troubles stem from the fall of 2010 when she questioned the classification of two properties, one owned by a member of Kilmer’s family and another owned by a fellow employee in the office at the time, the lawsuit said.

Chaffee alleges Kilmer told her in January 2011 that there would be a reduction in force in the property transfer division of the office because there was not enough work to justify staffing levels, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit notes that a few months later Kilmer hired two of her family members, which the former assessor acknowledged last fall was a mistake and resigned from her elected position.

“I am convinced that I have made mistakes in the hiring of a number of summer employees and two full-time employees in my office," Kilmer wrote in her resignation letter.

Upon resigning, Kilmer revealed she was accused of hiring family members without following West Virginia Ethics Commission standards established to prohibit nepotism, but did not name the person who filed a complaint against her with the commission.

Kilmer wrote in her letter that she had employed the nephew of the person who filed the complaint against her for summer work at the complainant’s request.

Kilmer wrote in her resignation letter that she wasn’t aware of the ethics nepotism rule until receiving a letter from the Ethics Commission on Nov. 21, notifying her of an investigation and a number of allegations.

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