ATLANTA (CN) – A former executive claims in court that the Georgia Ethics Commission fired her for trying to investigate a gubernatorial candidate’s violations of campaign finance laws.
Stacey Kalberman claims the chairman of the state ethics commission board, who was the candidate’s appointee, retaliated against her to deter the investigation and promote his political career.
Kalberman sued the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission fka Georgia State Ethics Commission, Executive Secretary Holly LaBerge and Chairman Patrick Millsaps, in Fulton County Superior Court.
The state ethics commission oversees campaign funding and spending of elected officials and lobbyists.
Kalberman was executive secretary of the commission from April 2010 until June 2011, when she says she was “forced out of her job”.
As executive secretary, Kalberman managed the commission’s administrative, legal and investigatory functions, including investigations of complaints under the Georgia Campaign Finance Act, according to her complaint.
“Between March and May of 2010, Kalberman became aware of three third-party complaints made against a gubernatorial candidate (the ‘candidate’) concerning his campaign’s compliance with the Georgia Campaign Finance Act,” the complaint states.
“The candidate had reappointed Millsaps to his position on the commission.
“The commission’s investigation revealed troubling irregularities with the candidate’s campaign financial disclosures.”
After the candidate’s counsel ignored her request for documents, Kalberman says, she prepared draft subpoenas for the commission’s review.
Kalberman says she discussed the subpoenas with Millsaps at least four times and told him that “the candidate’s campaign had possibly violated campaign contribution limits on many occasions.” But she says Millsaps asked her to keep the matter in “strict confidence” and refused to sign the subpoenas.
Kalberman claims that in June 2011, less than 3 weeks after she provided the subpoenas to the commissioners, Millsaps asked her to meet him to discuss the commission’s budget.
But instead of discussing the budget, Millsaps told her the commission was cutting her salary by 35 percent and eliminating the position of deputy secretary, filled by Kalberman’s chief investigator, according to the complaint.
“At the June meeting, it was obvious to Kalberman that Millsaps’ sudden ‘budget cut’ was retaliation against her for pursuing the ethics investigation into the candidate,” the complaint states. “Kalberman, exhausted from previous weeks of dealing with her mother’s diagnosis of stage IV metastatic breast cancer, became emotional and stated she could not work for the drastic reduction in salary Millsaps proposed.
“At no time did Kalberman resign her employment with the commission.”
Kalberman says that though she denied she had resigned, Millsaps sent her an email saying that the commission had accepted her “resignation.”
She says Millsaps refused to return her phone calls or further discuss the proposed budget cuts with her.
“Millsaps then began maliciously spreading false rumors to the press and to the public that Kalberman had resigned from her position during the June meeting,” the complaint states.
“On June 15, 2011, Kalberman sent a detailed email to Millsaps outlining several alternative plans for restructuring the budget to avoid Millsaps’ proposed cuts.
“Kalberman also indicated in her email that she felt that Millsaps’ alleged ‘budgetary concerns’ were pretextual to hide his real reason for removing Kalberman from her position: to deter the investigation into the candidate. Kalberman made it clear to Millsaps that she planned to proceed with her job duties, which included the investigation.
“Millsaps ignored Kalberman’s overtures to discuss the commission’s budget, leaked Kalberman’s email to the press, and told the press that Kalberman had resigned from her position and that she behaved badly by becoming ‘upset’ at the June meeting. In addition, Millsaps misled the press when he reported he could not really remember if he ever received the candidate’s subpoenas.”
Kalberman says the commission enacted Millsaps’ proposed cuts and forced her to resign, claiming her authority had been compromised.
The complaint adds: “Kalberman’s resignation as executive secretary amounted to a constructive termination because the commission, and specifically Millsaps, forced her out of her job and made it clear she would be rendered powerless, amounting to nothing more than a figurehead.”
Kalberman says Millsaps’ statements to the press hurt her reputation and prevented her from getting similar ethics-related jobs.
She seeks compensatory and punitive damages for retaliation under the Georgia Whistleblower Act and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
She is represented by Kimberly Worth with Joyce Thrasher Kaiser & Liss.