by Ron Gregory
MADISON – Former Boone County Deputy Assessor Susan Baisden is claiming she was fired by current Assessor Scotty Cook for political reasons. A suit, filed in Boone Circuit Court, names the assessor, his office and the county commission as defendants.
Filed last Friday in the office of Circuit Clerk Sue Ann Zickefoose, Baisden alleges that the fact that she was Cook’s opponent in the 2016 primary election led to her improper dismissal after 27 years. The action was assigned to Circuit Judge William Thompson.
The suit, filed by Madison attorney Peter Hendricks and lawyer Richard W. Walters of Shaffer & Shaffer, says Baisden went to work as deputy assessor on August 1, 1990. She was initially terminated by Cook on his first official day in office on January 3 of this year.
In 2016, Baisden and Cook campaigned to replace former Assessor Jennings Miller, who had previously announced his retirement at the end of his term, December 31, 2016. Cook defeated Baisden in the May primary. Before and during the course of the campaign, it was clear that the pair represented what is considered opposing factions of the Boone Democrat party. Cook appeared to be the candidate of the faction that includes incumbent Sheriff Randall White and Baisden was seen to be representing the group headed by Miller.
Although not directly relevant to the pending court case, Miller filed to run against White after announcing he would not seek the assessor’s office again. White defeated Miller in the same primary in which Cook was the assessor winner.
“On Mr. Cook’s first day in office, he fired (Baisden) in retaliation for running against him in the 2016 election,” the suit maintains.
After Cook fired Baisden, she filed a complaint with the county commission. “The commission agreed with (Baisden) and subsequently ordered the reinstatement of plaintiff’s employment with the assessor’s office,” the complaint continues.
Based on the commission’s finding, Baisden worked until February 10 when she was again terminated. Cook and the county commission “claimed that the county commission did not have the authority to reinstate (Baisden’s) employment and thus (they) did not have to follow the commission’s directive to reinstate (Baisden) to her former position with the assessor’s office.”
The suit goes on to claim that Cook and the commission have failed to pay Baisden for the time when she was reinstated until the time she was terminated a second time. The assessor and commission actions were “politically motivated and violated plaintiff’s First and Fourteenth Amendment rights,” according to the court document.
The suit cites a state supreme court of appeals ruling in Adkins versus Miller that held, in part, “The first amendment to the United States Constitution and article III, section 7 of the West Virginia Constitution do not confer any right upon a government employee to continued employment. Under certain circumstances, those provisions do, however, extend a protection to government employees to be free from employment decisions made solely for political reasons.”
The suit says Cook fired Baisden on day one for political reasons which resulted in her loss of income and caused her to suffer humiliation, embarrassment, mental and emotional distress and loss of personal dignity.
The claim states that state law gives an employer a limited amount of time to pay an employee when they leave employment. In fact, it says, the commission and Cook were required to pay Baisden for her time at the next regular pay period. Since they have not paid her at all, the suit alleges the commission and assessor are violating the law.
In the filing, Baisden asks for compensatory damages, including lost wages and benefits; front pay; emotional distress damages; punitive damages; attorney fees and costs; prejudgment interest on the amounts claimed; and any other relief the court may deem appropriate.
Cook, the assessor’s office and the county commission have 20 days to respond to the suit.