The former Charleston County director of the Department of Social Services is suing the state agency, the agency head and three former coworkers, alleging that he was wrongfully fired this fall, court records show.
In the same lawsuit, Frank Oakley is also suing the department for defamation, violation of the South Carolina Whistleblower Law and civil conspiracy.
Oakley seeks more than $4.5 million in actual and punitive damages from the defendants, including DSS Director Lillian Koller. The lawsuit was filed in the Richland County Court of Common Pleas last month.
Court records show Oakley worked for the department from March 1987 to Sept. 13, 2013. He alleges that his termination letter offered no basis for the agency’s decision to fire him.
“I know he’s had an outstanding record with them,” said Lewis Cromer, the Columbia attorney representing Oakley. “There’s no evidence of any problem.”
Cromer said his client was not available to be interviewed for this article and could not provide copies of his past performance evaluations.
A call placed to a department spokeswoman was not immediately returned.
The Department of Social Services denied a Freedom of Information Act request filed by The Post and Courier’s to review Oakley’s personnel records, but provided copies of several reports that show that the Charleston County DSS office was failing, in many cases, to keep children safe under Oakley’s watch.
DSS said it is not clear that personnel records are public information, even though it has released similar information about employees in the past.
A July 2012 report shows that a review of 23 Charleston County DSS cases revealed several areas that needed improvement. Twenty of the 23 cases failed to meet at least one internal benchmark.
A May 2013 report indicates that “foster home assessments were missed for three months,” and “risk and safety issues related to the mother missing medical appointments and failing to protect her children from sexual abuse by a former paramour were not addressed.”
The reports show that other county-level DSS offices were also failing to reach some of these benchmarks and Oakley’s lawsuit states, “Charleston County DSS maintained comparable data to other counties in South Carolina.”
Cromer said the reports provided by DSS are false, alleging that Director Koller “made up a lot of things to get rid of him.”
“He was an outstanding county leader and nobody ever said he wasn’t except Ms. Koller and her minions,” Cromer said. “It will all come out in court.”
The state Department of Social Services is charged with “ensuring the safety of children and adults who cannot protect themselves.” It also administers several safety net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called the food stamp program.
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.
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