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Patronis asks judge to dismiss ex-staffer's lawsuit

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Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a former employee who alleges she was fired for not donating to his campaign or attending a fundraiser event for his reelection last fall.

According to a 21-page document filed by Patronis' attorney Brian Keri in federal court in Tallahassee, Patronis says the claim "wholly lacks merit."

In her original complaint filed in October Christine Taul, a 32-year veteran of the Department of Financial Services, alleged she received a phone call at work from a third party inviting her to a fundraiser being held for the CFO on Aug. 20. The caller told Taul, a registered Democrat, to "bring a check," she said. 

Taul was scheduled to leave Tallahassee for a vacation on the day of the fundraiser but said she wouldn't attend anyway because of her differing political views. 

When she returned from her vacation on Aug. 27, she was told she would be terminated. Taul, who had been an administrator for the CFO's risk management program since 1994, resigned instead. In September, Taul's attorneys sent a letter to the CFO's office in demanding she be reinstated with full back pay. 

The department's general counsel, Chasity O'Steen, said then that the department did not know of any third party activity, and that attributing the phone to the CFO's office was an "erroneous assumption." O'Steen said Taul was terminated because she didn't show improvement after mandatory remedial training in April 2018. Taul was also responsible for an employee who lied about her hours on a timesheet. 

O'Steen said then that department was within its rights to discipline Taul for her poor performance, even after counseling and remedial trainings. Her personnel file shows Taul she received a "commendable" overall rating in 2017. Her manager wrote that she is a "valued asset to the Division" and that her "experience and knowledge are often utilized in solving complicated issues." 

Taul’s complaint alleges that Patronis violated her First Amendment rights by dismissing her "in retaliation," but Patronis "vehemently denies" the allegation.

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