Politics & Government

Second whistleblower lawsuit alleges sex toys were sold by employee using state time, resources

A second whistleblower lawsuit has been filed alleging that employees of the state Public Protection Cabinet were using state time and offices to operate online businesses, including one involved in the sale of sex toys.

Kimberly Whitley, an attorney with the cabinet’s Office of Legal Services in the Insurance Division, alleges in the suit that she was “harassed, intimidated, threatened with potential disciplinary action” and subject to possible insubordination charges when she reported how employees used state resources “to run personal businesses.” She also reported “an ongoing falsification of state payroll time sheets, and an ongoing pattern of overall mismanagement” to the state Executive Branch Ethics Commission.

As a result of the “subsequent retaliation,” Whitley was subject to reprisal in violation of the Kentucky Whistleblower Act, the suit says.

The lawsuit was filed this week in Franklin Circuit Court. Dick Brown, spokesman for the Public Protection Cabinet, said Friday that “cabinet policy is not to comment on pending litigation. We will defend these allegations at the appropriate time in the appropriate venue.” Ronda Sloan, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Insurance, also had no comment.

This is the second such suit naming the cabinet as a defendant in the last month. On Nov. 9, Jacqueline Heyman, a former attorney in the Insurance Legal Division, filed a similar suit alleging that she was fired after she reported that two administrative support employees in that division were abusing their positions. (In its response to the Heyman suit, the cabinet has denied the allegations and has asked that the complaint be dismissed.)

Unlike Heyman, Whitley has not been fired. The suit says her job duties include providing legal analysis regarding matters referred to the division, addressing administrative cases submitted for appellate review, conducting hearings and drafting orders.

She has been an attorney for 13 years and has had experience in private practice and as a prosecutor with the Fayette County Attorney’s office.

On Aug. 10, Whitley reported to Heyman that she wanted to file a formal complaint reporting that administrative support employees Tammy Sharp and Christen Whitehead were operating outside businesses on state time and using their office computers and other resources to operate Amazon.com online businesses, the suit says.

In particular, Whitehead was engaged in the sale of “Pure Romance” sex toys, “sensual enhancement items and premium lubricants as part of her online business,” the suit says.

“As a result, these employees were grossly derelict in their duties through the misuse of the commonwealth’s resources for personal purposes and monetary gain,” the suit alleges.

Whitley reported her concerns to Heyman that “there was widespread falsification of commonwealth payroll time sheets” by Sharp and Whitehead, “who had extended absences from work and appeared to receive preferential treatment” from Shaun Orme, the general counsel in Legal Services who “verified their timesheets without question,” the suit alleges.

On Aug. 19, Whitley spoke to the executive director of the Executive Branch Ethics Commission and disclosed all activities she considered unethical, the suit says. Heyman also spoke to the commission on the same day.

Heyman was fired on Aug. 31. The suit says Whitley saw “the two individuals reported for misconduct ... laughing when Ms. Heyman was terminated.”

The next day, Orme told Whitley that a time clock was going to be installed, and warned her that she “now needed to ‘peacefully co-exist’ in the office,” the suit says.

On Oct. 30, Whitley sent an email to Office of Legal Services Executive Director Peter Ervin regarding management issues in the office. On Nov. 10, she received a letter from Ervin by messenger mail. The suit says the letter directed Whitley to “immediately cease reporting mismanagement and ethical violations and that failure to adhere to said directive may result in corrective or disciplinary action.”

On Nov. 23, the suit says an attorney named Cannon Armstrong, working under Ervin and Deputy Executive Director LaTasha Buckner, came to Whitley’s office and said she had to discuss her ethics complaint and Heyman’s lawsuit, “or he would give her a letter from the appointing authority for her to be found in insubordination, a terminable offense.”

On Nov. 28, Whitley found a subpoena in her mailbox which requested documents, texts, and information from her regarding Heyman’s civil action including “anything regarding Ms. Heyman, Shaun Orme, and all employees at the Kentucky Department of Insurance.”

Shane Sidebottom, the Convington lawyer representing Whitley and Heyman, has filed a motion to quash that subpoena. The motion is scheduled to be heard Wednesday by Franklin Circuit Court Judge Thomas Wingate.