Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway’s office will do an immediate audit of the state’s Legal Expense Fund, which is the pool of money used to make payments stemming from lawsuits against the state. Galloway says recent reports have highlighted an increase in the amount of money the state is spending each year to settle lawsuits against the state for inappropriate activity, including sexual harassment and discrimination occurring on the job.
House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) will form a committee to investigate the Missouri Corrections Department after a story on Pitch.com reports that several corrections employees have been victimized and even threatened based on sex, age, religion, or physical ability. Richardson says the House would take up a “very thorough review,” of what’s been happening at the department.
The newspaper reveals that between 2012 and 2016, settlements with employees or former employees making the allegations cost the state more than $7.5 million.
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) wants a special investigative committee formed to have subpoena power to get witness testimony involving allegations against the Department of Corrections. She says department leaders must be held accountable and solutions for change should be implemented.
Galloway’s announcement also follows an investigative report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that says Governor Jay Nixon’s administration has settled another seven-figure discrimination lawsuit brought by a longtime state employee.
Galloway says the purpose of the audit is to provide a clear picture of the liability created by employee lawsuits throughout the state workforce. She says the audit will examine finances and patterns for Legal Expense Fund payments.
“Like many of my colleagues in state government I was alarmed and dismayed by recent reporting on sexual harassment and discrimination involving Department of Corrections employees, and by the troubling amount of taxpayer money the state is spending to settle these lawsuits,” says Galloway. “I intend to use the full authority of my office to broadly examine the finances and policies related to these payouts and the culture that may be allowing this activity to continue unchecked across state government.”
The line in the state budget from which money for settlements with the state comes does not have a limited dollar amount. Rather, it has an “E” at the end of that line, which stands for an estimated amount. That allows for additional money to be used on an as-needed basis.
Audit work is underway as part of the closeout audit of the Attorney General’s Office announced earlier this year. Anyone with information for consideration in this audit can contact the Whistleblower Hotline at 800-347-8597 or by email at [email protected].