COLUMBIA, SC — A state employee who was fired this week after being accused of downloading the personal information of agency employees without authorization, is suing that agency and its director.
Kerry Paul, a former human resources director of the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce, filed a defamation lawsuit in Richland County Circuit Court against the department and its director, Cheryl Stanton, accusing Stanton of fabricating allegations of an unauthorized data breach as part of a scheme to get rid of Paul.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday, the day that the agency said that the personal information, including birthdays and Social Security numbers, of more than 4,000 current and former employment agency employees had been downloaded onto an unencrypted removable storage device on Dec. 18.
SLED launched an investigation on Dec. 19, and the Employment and Workforce Department said Wednesday that it suspended the unnamed employee without pay. The state agency said it had fired the employee Tuesday and was preparing to notify those affected by the breach.
Agency officials said they did not think the data theft was intentional, but the employee did not follow agency policy on downloading personal information.
Paul’s lawsuit says she and other employment agency employees are authorized to use mobile storage devices to work away from their offices “as long as they maintain the confidentiality of any personal employee data.”
Paul used the device on her home computer, consistent with what she had done for years, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, Paul had been one of three finalists for the job of the agency’s director, a position left vacant when the previous director, Abraham Turner, resigned amid turmoil. But she never really was in the running for the post, the suit says.
The lawsuit says Paul “was told the Governor had already made the decision to hire ... Stanton because Stanton was a friend” of another member of Gov. Nikki Haley’s Cabinet but “had to make it seem like she was following (state) rules,” which require three finalists for vacancies. Paul and another agency employee were told they would be sham candidates for the post, the lawsuit alleges.
Haley’s spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday, referring inquiries to the agency.
“This is nothing more than a disgruntled former employee who was fired for violating agency policy regarding the handling of personal identification information,” said agency chief of staff Darrell Scott. “There is no merit to this lawsuit.”
In the lawsuit, Paul of Lexington County accuses Stanton of being hostile while at work. Paul also alleges Stanton “intentionally misled SLED, alleging that (Paul) had personal identifying information about DEW employees in her possession that (Paul) was not authorized to have.”
In 10 years as a state employee, Paul always performed her job well, receiving promotions and bonuses, the lawsuit says.
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