The chief clerk of the Missouri House is suing Dean Plocher and Rod Jetton for whistleblower retaliation

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Missouri House Chief Clerk Dana Miller speaks Friday outside the Cole County Courthouse about a lawsuit filed against Speaker Dean Plocher. (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri independent)

The top staff member of the Missouri House filed a lawsuit Friday accusing Speaker Dean Plocher and his chief of staff, Rod Jetton, of intimidation and intimidation during battles over ethics charges and hiring decisions.

House Chief Clerk Dana Miller’s lawsuit follows months of allegations of misconduct by Plocher and a House Ethics Committee investigation that was ultimately dismissed when the chairman released documents accusing Plocher of obstructing an investigation

In her lawsuit, filed in Cole County Circuit Court, Miller cited the law that protects whistleblowers from retaliation as the basis for her complaint. Miller, a nonpartisan official elected by all 163 members of the House of Representatives, said at a news conference that she did not plan to seek another term when a newly elected House convenes in January.

“We now have a culture of fear in that building with the staff that works there, and it’s time for me to speak up and say something,” Miller said.

Neither Plocher nor Jetton could be reached by telephone on Friday. House Communications officials could not immediately comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction that Plocher, a Republican, violated Miller’s rights, ordering him to stop her and award her monetary damages for “suffering emotional and mental distress, shame, humiliation and loss of enjoyment of life’.

The lawsuit, which names the House of Representatives, Plocher and Jetton as defendants, cites disputes between Miller and Plocher that began last year when the speaker insisted on purchasing expensive communications software. In the lawsuit, Miller accuses Plocher of pushing for the purchase because it would mean large donations to his statewide campaign for lieutenant governor and access to communications with the House for campaign use.

Dana Miller Unredacted Whistleblower Lawsuit

Until she opposed the purchase because it was too expensive and the internal systems created by House were duplicative, she had a good working relationship with Plocher, Miller said.

“I was getting along with the speaker until I told him no,” Miller said.

Miller has worked in state government for 31 years, including 23 years on the House of Representatives staff. In 2018 she became chief secretary.

“I care about that institution,” Miller said. ‘For me it’s about the house. I care about the people who work in the house and they just want to be able to do their job.”

The lawsuit is being filed, say Miller and her attorney, Kevin Baldwin, because obstruction and intimidation by Plocher and Jetton thwarted an ethics investigation into Plocher. An investigator’s report detailed how some potential witnesses allegedly refused to speak for fear that Plocher would use his power as speaker to retaliate against them, while others did not appear because Plocher decided who the committee could compel to testify. And Plocher refused to cooperate with the attorney hired to gather evidence for the committee.

Missouri House Administration Director Lori Hughes sent an email to Ethics Committee Chairwoman Hannah Kelly on March 5 detailing events over several months that she said were designed to harm her and other nonpartisan intimidate legislative staff.

“In my more than 21 years of working in state government, I have never witnessed or even been involved in such a hostile work environment so horrendous that I live every day in fear of losing my job,” wrote Hughes in the March 5 email. to the committee chairman.

In her official report, Miller goes into more detail about the events surrounding the ethics investigation than had previously been made public.

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Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher addresses the media on May 17, the last day of the legislative session. (Anna Spoerre/Missouri Independent)

Plocher’s troubles became public in September, when The Independent received emails from Miller saying she was concerned that Plocher had engaged in “unethical and perhaps unlawful conduct” as part of the months-long push for a contract with a company called Fireside. manage constituent information.

Miller had pushed back on the purchase plan, but Plocher was determined to implement it.

During a conversation with state Rep. Dale Wright, chairman of the Administration and Accounts Committee, the lawsuit states, Wright told her he was “concerned that Speaker Plocher’s attempt to purchase Fireside was directly related to a large campaign donation” he was expecting .

A month after reporting on the software contract, The Independent also reported that Plocher had repeatedly illegally requested taxpayer reimbursement from the Legislature over the past five years for airline tickets, hotels and other travel expenses already paid by his campaign.

The lawsuit states that Plocher’s demands for reimbursement were another point of contention between him and Miller.

In October, the lawsuit says, Miller met with Kenny Ross, Plocher’s then-chief of staff, who told her that Plocher’s campaign advisers, David Barklage and Jon Ratliff, believed she was leaking negative information to the media and wanted her to she ‘withdrew. ”

Within a month, Ross was fired. The lawsuit states that Ratliff told Ross the reason was “because he didn’t stop ‘Danagate’.”

Ross has previously rejected requests from The Independent to discuss his resignation.

The allegations in the lawsuit are not based on hearsay or conjecture, Baldwin said.

“Everything in there can be substantiated by emails, recordings, accusations, threats and things that have been said,” he said. “They are not simply Dana Miller’s statements, but they are supported by documentary evidence.”

Jetton told Miller at a meeting that he was there to make peace between Miller and Plocher, the lawsuit states, and Jetton said Plocher “saw a lot of ghosts” and that he felt he could “calm things down.” .

The relationship deteriorated, Miller said at the news conference, when she tried to protect another employee from retaliation.

“When I took some steps to protect a particular employee who was in a very vulnerable position, that changed overnight,” Miller said.

The lawsuit describes a Dec. 21 meeting between Jetton, Plocher, Wright, House General Counsel Bryan Scheiderer and Danyale Bryant, an aide to the House Accounts Committee.

During the meeting, the lawsuit states, Jetton told Bryant “that they needed to ‘stifle’ the authority of the Chief Clerk. Bryant said Jetton made a physical choking gesture with both hands as he made the statement. This event was of particular concern to the plaintiff given the prior allegations against Jetton for his alleged physical assault on a woman.”

Plocher hired Jetton, himself a former Speaker of the House of Representatives from southeastern Missouri, despite a history that included pleading guilty to assault after a sexual encounter in which Jetton was accused of choking a woman until she passed out and confessions of Jetton that he became addicted to alcohol and the power inherent in the speaker’s office.

The lawsuit also details examples of Plocher’s attitudes toward women, noting that in May 2022, when Plocher was House Majority Leader, she advised him on complaints from female members of the House of Representatives.

“Plaintiff also heard Plocher call State Representative Sara Walsh ‘stupid’ in the House chamber during a House hearing,” the lawsuit said. “Representative. Plocher’s response to the fact that plaintiff shared these concerns was negative. He replied, “They look like an invasive species.” When Plaintiff expressed her confusion about that statement, Rep. Plocher clarified, “Stupid Republican women… they are an invasive species.”

Walsh, a Republican from Ashland, served in the House of Representatives from 2017 to 2023. In a text message to The Independent, Walsh confirmed that Plocher had called her stupid when she tried to get the House to repeal a fuel tax introduced in 2021.

Plocher “was angry that I introduced the amendment to repeal the gas tax increase and said I was ‘too stupid’ to draft it myself,” Walsh wrote.

In a statement, Miller said the ethics investigation into Plocher failed because of his obstruction.

“What I have discovered is that the very mechanism designed to find the truth has failed,” she said. “You heard the chairman and vice chairman talk about obstruction that limited their ability to complete a full and thorough investigation.”

Holly VanOstran, one of the attorneys who assisted on the case, said she had worked as an HR director and was shocked by the conditions Miller and other House employees endured.

“Things that would never be tolerated in a corporate environment have been given the opportunity to run rampant here,” VanOstran said. “There are politicians who believe they are above the law and that they cannot be held accountable for their actions.”

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