Lawsuit claims ethics commission complaint led to firing of WVSOM employee

By Sarah Mansheim

A former osteopathic school employee is suing the school, its president, and her former supervisor for firing her after she blew the whistle on alleged misappropriations to the state ethics commission.

Roberta McKnight filed the suit in Greenbrier County Circuit Court in April against the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (WVSOM), President Michael Adelman and Associate Dean for Affiliated and Sponsored Programs Malcolm Modrzakowski. The suit alleges that McKnight, while employed at WVSOM as grants manager and institutional compliance manager, was concerned that funding and employee resources were being funneled away from the school to Adelman’s PBS puppet show, “Abracadabra.”

According to McKnight, Adelman’s production company, Mike and Joey Productions, used state-funded resources, including WVSOM employees, facilities and materials, to market, promote and produce the TV show for Adelman’s financial benefit.

McKnight, concerned with the diversion of resources, complained to Modrzakowski, her direct supervisor, and other employees, about the situation. Then, after McKnight informed Modrzakowski she was going to file an ethics complaint with the West Virginia Ethics Commission, she says she was fired.

The suit states that shortly after her firing in October, 2014, McKnight was notified that the West Virginia Ethics Commission Probable Cause Review Board had determined that if the allegations were true, they could constitute a violation of the West Virginia Ethics Act, and that the commission’s review board would investigate the matter.

WVSOM representatives said the review board has already dismissed McKnight’s complaint against Adelman, finding he did not violate the Ethics Act. McKnight’s suit does not state that the complaint was dismissed.

McKnight is suing for injury and damages, lost wages, retirement investment and health insurance, paid time off, loss of medical benefits, job search expenses, economic hardship, relocation, emotional distress, humiliation, mental anguish and other damages. McKnight’s reported salary, according to a 2013 report, was over $92,000 a year.

She is represented by Charleston attorneys Mark Goldner and Maria W. Hughes.

WVSOM Associate Vice President of Administrative Affairs released the following statement regarding the suit: “WVSOM does not discuss personnel matters or pending litigation. Concerning any allegations that have been raised in the lawsuit, we believe that WVSOM and our administration have acted appropriately and in accordance with state and federal law. In addition, the allegations in the lawsuit of inappropriate or unethical behavior by President Adelman have already been found to be untrue. The West Virginia Ethics Commission’s Probable Cause Review Board dismissed the Ethics Complaint filed against President Adelman, finding that he did not violate any prohibition of the Ethics Act as alleged in the Complaint. “


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