Four former Pittsylvania County Department of Social Services workers have dismissed a lawsuit filed in federal court.
The lawsuit, ‘for injunctive and declaratory relief and damages,’ named retired assistant DSS director Cheryl Fisk, the elected officials of the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, and Stedman Payne, former chairman of the county DSS board.
The lawsuit was originally filed on Nov. 13 in Pittsylvania County Circuit Court before being removed and filed in federal court in Danville.
Details in the 95-page lawsuit included allegations of a hostile work environment among other details from as far back as 2015.
Some of the allegations specifically included termination notices, grievances that went unanswered, inappropriate Halloween costumes for the workplace, falsifying of records, and nepotism issues.
The plaintiffs in the case were listed as Janis Ward, Lori Berrios, Melanie Belote, and Amie Hodges Young for a requested $3.5 million in damages.
According to the lawsuit, supervisor Ron Scearce, who in 2018 served as liaison to the DSS board, “became the go-to person for DSS worker complaints, because, as petitioners reported, neither the DSS board chairman, Stedman Payne, nor the board itself, had become involved in monitoring the functioning of the PCLDSS, and had never indicated any awareness of, or concerns for, worker dissatisfactions.”
The lawsuit alleged former DSS director Sherry Flanagan was primarily responsible for workplace problems including a hostile, toxic, dysfunctional, and dangerous environment for DSS workers.
“In the prior ten years relevant hereto, all years of Flanagan’s PCLDSS Directorship — 1995-2005— only two grievances were filed: one by Belote and one by Hodges Young,” the lawsuit stated.
Belote’s in-house grievance, the lawsuit stated, was never processed to completion and she was terminated by letter.
Further allegations included notices of termination or resignation “offers” to the petitioners.
Paragraph 42 of the lawsuit stated the assessment done by state DSS Commissioner Duke Storen, which was released in a report in June 2018, was allegedly nothing more than a cover-up.
The assessment by Storen looked into allegations of a toxic work environment, which Storen reported as unfounded despite his report finding issues in child protective services.
The lawsuit was dismissed with the understanding that plaintiffs Ward, Berrios, Belote, and Hodges Young could not bring up action again on the same claim.