2 more lawsuits filed against DHEC in wake of TB firings - FOX Carolina 21

2 more lawsuits filed against DHEC in wake of TB firings

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GREENWOOD, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Two former employees of the state health department have filed lawsuits against their previous employer, stating they were wrongfully fired.

According to the two lawsuits filed by attorney John Reckenbeil on behalf of Latrinia Richard and Anne Ashley, both worked for the Department of Health and Environmental Control in Greenwood County during the initial investigation and outbreak of tuberculosis at a local school.

Richard's lawsuit states that she was the site supervisor for the Greenwood County Health Department and was part of the initial investigation involving the index patient who has TB.

The suit states when the TB infection was first discovered in March, she told the index patient to leave work immediately, performed tests and gathered info for contact investigation.

According to DHEC, that patient was contagious while working at Ninety Six Primary School. The suit states the patient had an open-flow air vent in his work space that connected to a classroom.

The lawsuits state Richard and Ashley notified the Central TB Office of DHEC in Columbia about the case via email, text messages and over the phone and said did asked for guidance and voiced concerns but nothing was done until DHEC began to test the children until May 31.

According to Ashley's suit, she worked for DHEC for nearly 20 years and at the time of her firing, she was employed as the TB case manager for Abbeville and McCormick counties with 10 years of TB investigation experience.

Both suits state the plaintiff believe they were fired on June 11because of her "written concerns about DHEC's wrongdoings," according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuits state that while both were told they were fired because they failed to take it upon themselves to test the children for TB, they said they did not have the supplies to do so and would have violated state and federal laws if they had.

The suits claim Richard and Ashley's "Persistence to move forward in the investigation was derailed by her superiors at the central office in Columbia, who insisted on focusing on the records and tuberculosis pre-employment screenings of teachers and employees of the school."

Additionally, the lawsuits state that the central office of DHEC, "Completely disregarded the overwhelming evidence of a high infectivity rate creating a need to take action and prevent further exposure to the rest of the school's employees and attendees."

The lawsuits state that both Richard and Ashley are seeking actual and liquidated damages including all lost wages and employment benefits, along with the damages allowed under South Carolina Whistleblower Protection Act.

News of the TB outbreak broke in late May after DHEC announced it was testing students and faculty at the Ninety Six school after they came in contact with the index patient, who was identified as Willie Spearman, of Greenwood, when FOX Carolina obtained an unredacted copy of the emergency public health order that was issued against Spearman, requiring him to be confined and treated at a state health facility in Columbia.

As of June 18, DHEC said two adults, including the original index patient, have the contagious TB infection. DHEC said 10 students also contracted the disease but are not contagious because of their age.

FOX Carolina is working to contact DHEC for comment on the lawsuits.

Stay with FOX Carolina and foxcarolina.com for the latest in this developing story.

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