State to settle lawsuits filed by two former workers

June 07, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,sun reporter

The state will spend $150,000 to settle lawsuits by two former employees who claimed they were fired illegally by former Public Service Commission Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler, officials said yesterday.

Schisler fired Randy M. Allen and Blaine L. Keener, who served as the PSC's chief auditor and engineer, in April 2004. He did so without consulting other members of the commission in a housecleaning that claimed the jobs of three other employees, a move critics said was designed to make the regulatory body more friendly to the utilities.

In October 2004, a judge ruled in a suit brought by one of the other fired employees, Chrys Wilson, that Schisler could not fire the employees without a majority vote of the five-member commission. Because of the staggered terms of commissioners, appointees of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. were not in the majority.

"Schisler did not have the right to terminate them," said Morton Edelstein, a Baltimore attorney who represented Allen and Keener. "Only the majority of the PSC would have had the right to do it."

Allen is due to receive $100,000 and Keener $50,000. Edelstein said the figures represent the amount of wages the two men lost between the time they were fired and when they got new jobs. The state Board of Public Works approved the payments yesterday.

The pair testified as part of a Democratic inquiry of Ehrlich's personnel practices that they had no warning that their jobs were in jeopardy, that they were escorted from their offices by armed guards and that their photos were posted in the lobby of the building to make sure they did not return.

Ehrlich, a Republican, denied at the time that his administration fired people because of their political affiliations.

Former Ehrlich administration members have complained over the past several months that O'Malley has engaged in a similar housecleaning. O'Malley has also denied that any firings since he took office were political.

Allen and Keener also figured in one of last year's hottest political issues: the BGE rate increase. Democrats - including then-candidate O'Malley - accused Schisler of replacing experienced regulators with people who were more sympathetic to the utilities.

O'Malley's chief counsel, Ralph M. Tyler, said that had the state not settled, it could have faced a stiffer judgment.

andy.green@baltsun.com

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