WKYT | Lexington, Kentucky | News

Whistleblower Settles Lawsuit Against State

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A state worker will receive $500,000 to
settle a whistleblower lawsuit against the Kentucky Transportation
Cabinet.

Sarah Missy McCray filed the suit in 2005 under the state's
Whistleblower Act, claiming former Transportation Secretary William
Nighbert had threatened her. McCray claimed in the lawsuit that she
was a victim of retaliation because she cooperated with an attorney
general's investigation into the hiring practices of Gov. Ernie
Fletcher's Republican administration.

Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, said he is pleased with the
settlement.

"I appreciate how difficult this has been for Ms. McCray and
applaud her pursuit of justice," Beshear said. "It's no secret
that many state employees were mistreated over the past four
years."

The Fletcher administration was marred by scandal that involved
the hiring and firing of hourly employees based on political
considerations. Such activities are illegal under Kentucky law.

"This case is one of the most egregious examples of how many
state workers came to work each day fearing for their jobs,"
Beshear said in a statement. "It left us with the task of cleaning
up the mess created by the previous administration."

Telephone calls to Fletcher's office at Pikeville Medical Center
went unanswered on Wednesday.

Under the settlement, McCray was also reassigned to the
Personnel Cabinet.

A special grand jury returned 29 indictments in the hiring
investigation, which ran for much of Fletcher's term from 2003
through 2007. Fletcher was among the people named in the
indictments. The charges against Fletcher were later dropped in a
negotiated agreement with prosecutors. He pardoned everyone else
charged in the case, including Nighbert.

The indictment against Nighbert alleged that he blocked McCray
from getting a bonus because she had testified to the special grand
jury.

The indictment also alleged that Nighbert told McCray "that if
it were 20 years ago, 'I probably would have come back there and
socked you in the mouth."' Nighbert denied making that statement
or threatening McCray.

Transportation Cabinet spokesman Chuck Wolfe said McCray stood
to win a much larger settlement if the case, scheduled for next
month, had been decided by a jury.

Nighbert disagreed.

"I was personally willing to go there and testify to what had
happened," he said Wednesday. "I would have been surprised if she
would have gotten anything at all when the whole story was told."


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