DHS Whistleblowers Awarded $1.5 Million

On November 15, a Wasco County jury ruled in favor of whistleblowers Shandie Johnson and Tammarra Ferguson, who were fired by the Oregon Department of Human Services in 2015.  

According to Oregon law, the DHS is required to present evidence of child endangerment to a judge for a decision. Johnson and Ferguson testified that their managers at the agency had instructed them to sidestep the law by making their own decisions on cases.  

After voicing their concerns to three of their supervisors, the pair were told that “management is policy,” “it is not your job to worry about following the law,” and “the train is leaving the station and if you are not on board you will find yourself walking the pavement looking for a new job.”   

Their attorney, David Paul, wrote that Johnson “had an exemplary record for 11 years plus,” and Ferguson “was recognized nationally for outstanding work.”  

While the DHS declined to comment, State Attorney Dirk Pierson alleged that “serious breaches of policy which were the actual basis for their terminations.” This was refuted by Paul, who stated that the “breach” in question occurred three years prior.   

“It’s bad when the state tells its child protective workers to violate the law,” Paul told The Oregonian, “but it’s worse when the state fires those workers in retaliation for not breaking the laws that DHS is required to obey.”   

The jury awarded Johnson $300,000 and Ferguson $440,000 for lost wages and benefits, as well as an additional $400,000 each.  

By Brandon Urey