A former section chief of the D.C. Office of the Attorney General is suing her ex-employer, claiming she was fired for calling attention to what she characterized as "ethical concerns" about plans to reorganize the office.
Nancy Johnson was fired in January, according to the complaint she filed on July 26 in District of Columbia Superior Court. Johnson was section chief of the legal services section of the child support services division from Nov. 2005 through Sept. 2011.
According to the complaint, Johnson supervised attorneys and non-attorney employees. She claimed she was harassed and eventually fired after expressing concerns that a proposed office reorganization could create conflicts of interest, since it would require her to supervise caseworkers who also testified in litigation she oversaw.
Johnson filed charges under the D.C. Whistleblower Protection Act. She also accused officials of violating the D.C. Human Rights Act, claiming that because she is black, she faced harsher penalties than "Caucasian attorneys who are similarly situated and have engaged in the same or more serious misconduct."
Johnson is being represented by David Branch of the Law Office of David A. Branch & Associates. Branch declined to comment. A spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, Ted Gest, also declined to comment.
Beginning in June 2011, according to the complaint, Johnson began raising "ethical concerns" about the proposed office restructuring, which would double the employees under her supervision from 30 to 60, including caseworkers. She said she notified high-ranking officials, including Attorney General Irvin Nathan, that supervising caseworkers who might also testify in litigation "gave the appearance of undue influence in favor of the government and thereby undermined the public's confidence in the integrity of the government."
According to the complaint, an internal ethics committee determined that the proposed changes wouldn't pose a legal conflict, but "noted that Ms. Johnson's concerns were thoughtful." However, Johnson claimed that she faced a hostile work environment and that when she was fired, officials accused her of raising those concerns to get out of doing her job.
Besides the whistleblower retaliation claims, Johnson's complaint detailed a host of other purported problems with how the child support services division functioned over the past year.
For instance, beginning in June 2011, Johnson said that a backlog of more than 500 legal pleadings previously handled by the program operations section of the child support services division were transferred to her unit. Other problems cited in the complaint included a notary improperly notarizing documents, a caseworker who misappropriated funds and two assistant attorneys general who were facing sanctions in Superior Court for allegedly failing to "conduct an adequate pre-filing inquiry."
The case is assigned to Judge Gregory Jackson. An initial scheduling conference is scheduled for Oct. 26.