Former Workforce Center employee files discrimination lawsuit

A former employee of the Beaufort Workforce Center is suing the S.C. Employment Security Commission, alleging she was punished by her superiors for refusing to falsify data.

The lawsuit, filed in Beaufort County CircuitCourt on Nov. 4, allegesMelinda Jan Rivera was ordered by then-area director Jannie Allen to enter information about unemployment services that were not provided.

When Rivera refused to do so, the suit says she was disciplined by Allen and her direct supervisor for alleged insubordination, according to the lawsuit.

Rivera's attorney, Bonnie Travaglio Hunt of North Charleston, said it is unclear why Allen would have wanted Rivera and other employees to enter fraudulent data.

"My understanding is that it makes the numbers look better, but that is something that the commission will have to demonstrate in their case," Hunt said.

The lawsuit also claims that Rivera, a white woman, was discriminated against on the basis of race, was regularly subjected to "insults, criticism and racial comments," and that her superiors gave preferential treatment to black employees.

Rivera was hired in October 2001 and quit in October 2008. Hunt said the discriminatory and hostile workplace was primarily to blame for Rivera's resignation and that her client was "constructively discharged" from her job.

The Beaufort Workforce Center is the local office of the commission, which administers the federal unemployment insurance program.

The office's new area director, Marjorie Thomas, could not be reached for comment. It is not clear when Allen left the position.

The state has 30 days from when its was served with the suit to respond.

Rivera is seeking actual damages. No dollar amount was specified in the filing.

The lawsuit comes as a seven-member S.C. House subcommittee begins a legislative audit of the commission.

State lawmakers sought the review after the agency did not alert them about the need to extend federal unemployment benefits to the state's 262,000 unemployed workers. The legislature was forced to reconvene in October and pass a bill extending unemployment benefits an additional 20 weeks.

The (Columbia) State contributed to this report.