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Whistleblower is suing WSI

BISMARCK -- Todd Flanagan, one of four former employees of Workforce Safety and Insurance who sought whistleblower status and was then fired, has sued the agency.

BISMARCK -- Todd Flanagan, one of four former employees of Workforce Safety and Insurance who sought whistleblower status and was then fired, has sued the agency.

WSI will be defended by the attorney general's office, the same agency to which Flanagan and other whistleblowers were directed to seek protection.

Flanagan was a WSI fraud investigator and was fired Dec. 5. He maintains that WSI management conspired to fire him after he was subpoenaed to give a deposition in a criminal case against WSI's former executive director, Charles "Sandy" Blunt and fraud director Romi Leingang. Flanagan was granted immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for his deposition.

Agency officials said his statements weren't credible.

The civil complaint names the agency and Blunt plus former interim executive director John Halvorson, who is now the agency's chief operating officer; WSI's general counsel, Jodi Bjornson; WSI attorney Rob Forward, and former WSI board chairman Bob Indvik of Bottineau as defendants.

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The attorney general's office released a statement saying only that they've received the suit and are reviewing the allegations. "As is required for these types of claims, it is being handled through the Risk Management Division and a proper response will be filed so the matter may proceed to court," said the statement.

The lawsuit was served on WSI Wednesday, the interim executive director, Bruce Furness, told the WSI board Thursday. Flanagan's attorney, Michael Geiermann of Bismarck, filed the suit in Burleigh County District Court Thursday.

Geiermann said now that four WSI employees who sought whistleblower status have been fired, legislators should rewrite the whistleblower law because all it does is give workers "the privilege of suing the state of North Dakota" and not protection from retaliation.

"I think they have to revise the whole concept of whistleblower in this state. Any whistleblower like Todd Flanagan has to take on the state of North Dakota," he said.

Lawmakers should change statutes "if they really want good government and people to come forward" to report wrongdoing in government agencies, he said.

In the suit, Flanagan alleges in three counts that when he was fired, WSI officials broke state laws that are supposed to protect state employees who come forward with job-related information about possible law violations. He said he cooperated with a criminal investigation of Blunt's and Leingang's alleged misuse of a confidential Transportation Department driver's license image and that Blunt and Leingang asked him to change his testimony. Criminal charges against Blunt and Leingang were eventually dismissed.

In three additional counts, Flanagan alleges the defendants violated public policy, engaged in a civil conspiracy and intentionally inflicted emotional distress.

He seeks unspecified compensatory damages of more than $50,000; an unspecified amount of punitive damages "for damage to his reputation, emotional stress and mental anguish; reinstatement to his job with back pay, fringe benefits and his legal fees and costs.

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Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.

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