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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

D.O.T Whistleblower fired after speaking with Fox 4's Mike Mason

Steve Sherman - Lee County D.O.T. worker
LEE COUNTY - Lee County officials drop a bombshell, firing a D.O.T. worker just one day after he applied for protection under Florida's Whistle-blower's Act. That whistle-blower spoke with Fox 4 and feared retaliation after exposing numerous problems with Lee County’s troubled Department of Transportation. One attorney says the county may be in hot water because of this. Four in your Corner investigator mike mason broke the story into problems at D.O.T and has the latest. D.O.T worker Steve Sherman has spoken out several times, accusing officials of wasting taxpayer money and harassing employees. He says supervisors intimidate employees along with being chastised and heavy handed. Sherman hoped things at D.O.T would improve with the help of Fox 4 and says that’s why he turned to us when county officials began retaliating against him. Sherman says, "I have nothing to hide. Bring ‘em on, let them do what they've got to do.” And Wednesday Steve Sherman was fired. He was handed a document notifying him he was being terminated for violating county policies such as:

Having his driver's license suspended back in 2004 for a DUI arrest and failing to notify management after being arrested for violating an injunction in 2008.

Attorney Jason Gunter says, “They wanted to get rid of this guy." Gunter says it's suspicious how the county fired Sherman for issues that happened several years ago and questions why they decided to terminate him just one day after he filed for protection under the state’s Whistle-blower's Act.

Florida's Whistle-blower's Act was established to "prevent agencies from taking retaliatory action against any person who discloses information alleging improper use of governmental office, gross waste of funds or any other abuse or gross neglect of duty on the part of an agency or public office."

Fired Director Rony Joel
Gunter represents several county employees who were fired after blowing the whistle and says Sherman meets that criteria. A Four in your Corner investigation has already sparked 3 investigations into D.O.T., led to the firing of its new director and triggered an audit by the Clerk of Courts. When Gunter was asked if he had faith that he Clerk of Courts would conduct an audit that's going to protect the employees he replied, "Not based on what I've seen thus far."

Gunter also feels the media is a powerful tool when it comes to exposing corruption. He says, "If individual employees want to come to Fox 4, yourself particularly, and disclose information they can do that on a confidential basis and you can agree not to share that information with anyone and nobody will ever know and you're not legally obligated to share that information with anyone."
Sherman has been given two days to contest his termination. The best ways employees can protect themselves from retaliation include the following: put complaints in writing, give them to a supervisor so there's a paper trail, contact an attorney, file charges with Florida’s Commission on Human Relations and apply for whistleblower protection. You can get the forms on our website, it's ‘Fox4 now.com’ and click on the Big Red 4.

To file for protection under the Florida’s Whistle-blower’s Act click here:
http://fchr.state.fl.us/complaints__1/florida_s_whistle_blower_s_act

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