Originally created 09/06/97

Fired couple file lawsuit again employer



AIKEN -- An Aiken County couple fired by an emergency children's shelter in 1995 filed a wrongful-termination and defamation lawsuit Friday against the agency.

Dave and Judy Johnson filed the lawsuit in Aiken County Court of Common Pleas, naming Helping Hands Inc. as defendant.

The Johnsons claim they were fired after the shelter's former director, identified as G. Saylor, accused Mr. Johnson of failing to report an incident of sexual abuse at the shelter in a timely manner.

Helping Hands is a private nonprofit agency that houses on a temporary basis children who are referred by the state Department of Social Services and the state Department of Juvenile Justice.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Johnson received information on Sept. 8, 1995, that a female employee of the shelter was "involved in inappropriate activity" with one of the boys living at Helping Hands.

He investigated and found cause on Sept. 13, 1995, to believe the report might be true, and reported that to the boy's Department of Social Services caseworker the next day. Two days later, Mr. Johnson and his wife kept an appointment with Ms. Saylor, believing they would discuss the reported incident.

Instead, the lawsuit says, the Johnsons were fired for failing to report the incident in a timely manner.

However, Mr. Johnson denies violating the shelter's policy in waiting to investigate before reporting the incident. He and his wife also accuse the shelter's board of orally, and possibly in writing, telling state employees and others that the couple had stolen property from Helping Hands, didn't report the sexual abuse incident and mishandled money.

Board members knew the allegations were false, according to the lawsuit. The termination and defamation "essentially black-listed" the couple and kept them from finding other employment, the lawsuit alleges.

The Johnsons are seeking compensation for lost wages, lost fringe benefits, mental anguish and emotional suffering. They are also seeking punitive damages. A lawsuit represents only one viewpoint.