Fired social worker sues state

A former Rowan County social worker has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the state saying she was fired after she complained that other social workers put children at risk by falsifying abuse reports and warning parents of impending inspections.

In the Dec. 8 lawsuit filed in Franklin Circuit Court, Debbie Pigman, a former family services office supervisor, said she was given "good" and "highly effective" ratings until she told her supervisor that other social workers were violating the policies of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Pigman said she reported that workers scheduled home visits to families on the cabinet's watch that allowed "these homes time to prepare and hide any violations," the lawsuit said.

After Pigman made numerous complaints, the cabinet assigned several people to review Pigman's own case files for mistakes. One of the investigators was an employee whom Pigman had reported for violating policy, the lawsuit said.

In July, Pigman said, she received a complaint about a 2-year-old child being driven in a vehicle by a parent who was under the influence of drugs, but that a fellow worker wanted to postdate the report and wait until the next day to act on it.

Pigman told a supervisor about her concerns that other workers were "falsifying dates and case information on abuse referrals which placed children at risk," the lawsuit said.

In August, Pigman was placed on leave and given a list of alleged violations for which her supervisors had not previously disciplined her, said her attorney, Shane Sidebottom. Pigman was fired in September.

Anya Weber, a spokeswoman for the cabinet, said she could not comment on pending litigation.

Sidebottom said the alleged reprisals against Pigman were a violation of the state Whistlebower Protection Act.

"Upper management had no problem with Ms. Pigman's work until she began to report to them violations of cabinet policy that placed children at risk," Sidebottom said.

"One disturbing concern reported by Ms. Pigman was that some intake workers were changing referral dates on calls for children needing protective services," Sidebotton said. "Delaying cabinet response to such calls is not only a violation of cabinet policy, but the delay also places the kids involved in those calls at serious risk for potential harm."

In a similar whistle-blower case in 2007, the state paid $380,000 to a social worker who said her supervisors harassed and ultimately fired her because she would not ignore a half-dozen allegations of abuse in a foster home. Also in 2007, the state paid $45,000 to another former social worker who said she was forced to rush investigations of alleged abuse.