Three former workers are leveling explosive allegations about why they believe they lost their jobs at Partners in Job Training and Placement and have filed a "whistleblower" lawsuit in Rock Island County Circuit court.
"I was fired for reporting suspected misappropriation of funds," said Carol Slavish, who worked at the job training agency for 30 years before she and two co-workers were abruptly let go on April 29, 2013.
The women maintain they had serious concerns about reimbursement requests by the new director Mark Lohman, stating they became aware he was "engaging in actions contrary to financial regulations law" on the use of grant money.
They allege he submitted reimbursement requests for mileage to events he didn't attend, submitted reimbursements for driving to the office on days he wasn't there, and submitted requests twice for the same trip.
They also say he was being paid both a salary and a consulting fee.
They said after they voiced their concerns to former Rock Island County Board Chairman Jim Bohnsack and current chair Phil Banaszek on numerous occasions; Lohman made them move out of the main office, without access to their desks, their keys, their files, and any payroll or financial information.
In April, they were fired.
All three received letters on April 29th saying they were being terminated the same day due to budget cuts. The lawsuit includes a number of exhibits, including a report to the board from April 26th, stating the agency would not be impacted by layoffs or furlough days because of the sequestration.
"This lawsuit is about whistleblower retaliation. My three clients, Carol Slavish, Jeanette Dawson, and Michelle Holmes were fired because of whistleblowing. There was an attempt to cover that up to make it look like this was sequestration, the documentation is clear, it's not," said attorney John Doak, who filed the suit on the women's behalf.
The suit names the Rock Island Tri-County Consortium, Partners in Job Training,Rock Island County, Workforce Development Board of Rock Island, Henry and Mercer Counties, Inc., Mark Lohman, and Phil Banaszek.
"There is no valid reason why I lost my job. I want my job back, in addition, I want the truth out," said Dawson, who spent 11 years at the agency.
The women say they were retaliated against after voicing concerns about Mr. Lohman and the way the agency was being run after he took over in April 2012. Prior to his appointment, he was a member of the Workforce Development board which oversees the Partners in Job Training and Placement agency.
In July, an audit conducted by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity flagged 11 fiscal and performance issues with the agency. Rock Island County was ordered to pay back more than $16,000 paid to Lohman for mileage reimbursements and consulting fees.
"The audit reaffirmed all of our suspicions, that he was receiving duplicate mileage, being paid mileage for places he didn't go. But nobody would listen to us," said Holmes, fired after six years on the job.
"When we told the higher ups, we were totally ignored," said Slavish, who is hoping to win her job back with the lawsuit. "Every time it just resulted in more retaliation against us."
"I was very upset, angry, just sick to my stomach. Even though I'd been there 30 years, I couldn't retire because of my age. I lost my insurance, and everything," Slavish said.
Those named in the lawsuit have 30 days to file a response. WQAD-TV was unable to reach Lohman because county offices were closed Monday due to the Martin Luther King Holiday. Chairman Banaszek said as of Monday night, he had not yet seen the suit.
"It's about the use and abuse of power in an attempt to crush people who are doing the right thing," said Doak. "They tried everything they could to get this brought to the attention to those who should be acting responsibly to the taxpayers. They went to the County Chairman, the Workforce Board group, they were ignored," he said.
The Workforce Investment Board oversee the Partners in Job Training and Placement agency. Rock Island Island County appoints the board members.
The former workers are asking for their jobs back, lost wages, back pay, attorneys fees and damages in excess of $50,000.