NICHOLASVILLE — Jessamine County is appealing a state decision that granted unemployment benefits to a fired jail employee who was charged with selling drugs.
In a complaint and appeal filed earlier this month in Jessamine Circuit Court, the Jessamine County Detention Center asks for a reversal of the Dec. 28 judgment of the Kentucky Unemployment Insurance Commission to grant benefits to Dana D. Whitlock. Her attorney, Josh Nichols, could not be immediately reached for comment on the appeal.
Whitlock, 42, a former deputy jailer and nurse's aide in the jail, was discharged May 15 after Nicholasville police arrested her on a charge of trafficking in a controlled substance within 1,000 yards of a school. That is a felony punishable by one to five years in prison.
Part of Whitlock's job was to dispense medicine to inmates, and police said at the time of her arrest that an investigation revealed she was involved with others in selling and/or illegally distributing some of those medicines. (However, she is not accused of selling drugs to inmates, said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Andy Sims.)
In June, a Jessamine County grand jury indicted Whitlock on five counts of trafficking. The case is still pending in circuit court and has not gone to trial.
On June 28, Whitlock applied for unemployment insurance benefits, stating that the reason for her discharge was "laid off/lack of work" but not disclosing any other explanation, says the complaint filed by Assistant County Attorney Joseph Allison.
In Kentucky, for a fired employee to receive unemployment benefits depends on whether an employer is able to demonstrate that the person was dismissed for reasons of misconduct.
Jailer Cecil Moss testified by telephone on the reasons for Whitlock's dismissal during a Sept. 30 hearing. Whitlock chose not to testify at that hearing and asserted her Fifth Amendment right against being compelled to do so, the complaint says.
The referee that heard testimony decided in Whitlock's favor, and the jail appealed that decision to the Kentucky Unemployment Insurance Commission. On Dec. 28, in a 2-1 decision, the commission affirmed the referee's decision.
The commission found that the alleged conduct in the indictment, if proven to the commission, would violate the employer's work rule. But the commission said the jail had not shown that Whitlock violated the rule.
Allison said Tuesday he could not discuss specifics about the confidential hearings before the referee and commission, nor could he comment about the specific work rule on which the commission based its decision. But he said the jail has policies against failure to follow rules in the employee manual, violation of criminal laws and failure to follow established procedures.
Under Kentucky law, circuit judges may reverse the outcome of an administrative hearing only if it was clearly erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence.
The complaint says the commission's findings of fact "are arbitrary and not supported by substantial evidence as they are contrary to all the proper evidence before the commission."
The commission erred in that it said the indictment was "hearsay evidence," the complaint adds.
And the commission erred by failing to address the argument raised by the county "that Whitlock should be disqualified from receiving benefits due to her knowingly false statement made to obtain" them, the complaint says.
The complaint also asks the judge to enter an order that would stop the distribution of unemployment benefits to Whitlock. It is unclear whether she has received any benefits.