Lawsuits accuse former DHHR supervisor of sexual harassment 

The state agency failed to properly screen the defendant prior to him being hired, according to the lawsuit. He had previously been removed from a public school teaching job for inappropriate behavior with students. 

By: - August 2, 2023 5:59 am
The front of West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is shown between two trees.

Lawsuits have been filed against the Department of Health and Human Resources and one of its former male supervisors for alleged sexual harassment and negligence. (Lexi Browning | West Virginia Watch)

Two women filed a pair of lawsuits against the state health department and one of its former male supervisors for alleged sexual harassment and negligence. 

According to the lawsuit, Brian Phillips was employed by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources as the adult protective services supervisor. While in the role, Phillips made multiple “unwanted, unreciprocated and unprofessional sexual advances” toward two female employees. Phillips was their direct supervisor at the time, according to the filing.

Phillips used his supervisor role to threaten the women and their careers if they did not engage in sexual relationships with him, both lawsuits said.

A spokesperson for DHHR said that the agency could not comment on pending litigation. 

Attorney Travis Griffith, who filed the complaints on behalf of the women in Kanawha County Circuit Court, said the allegations were “one other example of what is wrong with our DHHR system.”

The embattled health department, which has faced criticism for its treatment of vulnerable residents in its care with a $7.7 billion budget, is currently in the middle of lawmaker-mandated restructuring in an effort to improve the agency. 

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The women, who filed the suits in Kanawha County, also accused the DHHR of being negligent for “failing to properly interview, evaluate and screen” the defendant prior to him being hired by the state.

Prior to working for the DHHR, Phillips was employed as a high school teacher by the Boone County Board of Education. According to a grievance letter against the board by Phillips, he was suspended in 2017 without pay due to alleged misconduct after multiple students complained of inappropriate sexual statements made in the classroom. The schools system had determined that Phillips’ behavior was noncorrectable, according to Griffith

“How does one state agency find that his conduct is so atrocious that it’s noncorrectable then he gets hired by another state agency to work with vulnerable kids and adults?” he asked. 

Griffith said that Phillips did have access to children in his role while at DHHR, including incidents where he scheduled himself to be alone with the women in hotel rooms before a foster child was being temporarily placed there by the state.

“The hotel room DHHR paid for,” he added.

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Amelia Ferrell Knisely
Amelia Ferrell Knisely

Amelia is an investigative reporter for West Virginia Watch. Her coverage regularly focuses on poverty, child welfare, social services and government.