A former staff attorney at the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the commission’s chairman, alleging that he orchestrated her layoff because he disagrees with her politics and because she’s a woman.
Danielle Carne, who worked for WERC and two other state agencies from 2006 until she was laid off from the commission last year, said in a federal lawsuit that WERC chairman James J. Daley barely spoke to her or acknowledged her and greatly reduced the number of cases assigned to her until her job was eliminated.
The lawsuit also alleges that Daley told another commissioner that he didn’t trust her, that as a “lefty” she was a liability to WERC, and that they needed to find a way to get rid of her.
“While Carne served impartially and fairly in every position she held with the state of Wisconsin, it was openly known that her political beliefs and affiliations were oriented toward those associated with Democrats and liberals,” the lawsuit states. “Daley was aware of her beliefs and affiliations.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. The state Department of Justice, which generally represents state workers and agencies in job-related lawsuits, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
WERC has since the 1950s handled collective bargaining for public-sector employees, but its workload has dwindled since 2011, when Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation known as Act 10, which severely curtailed collective bargaining rights of most public-sector workers.
According to the lawsuit:
When Carne returned to WERC in 2016 after having worked for the state Office of Employment Relations and its successor, the state Division of Personnel Management, she learned from then-WERC chairman James Scott that Daley, who was one of three commissioners at the time, had opposed re-hiring her. Another staff attorney told Carne that Daley expressed personal dislike for Carne.
Walker’s 2017-19 biennial budget proposed shrinking WERC’s staff and reducing its three commissioners to one. As talk swirled about who would be the lone WERC commissioner, Daley was spending a lot of time speaking with Walker’s office and lobbying for the job, the lawsuit states. Scott told Carne that he believed Daley had a “problem with women.”
After the reductions occurred, Daley was appointed chairman at WERC. After that, he never spoke to Carne during the time they worked together and greatly reduced the number of cases assigned to her after his appointment.
In December 2017, after Carne received a call asking why she wasn’t available as a WERC arbitrator, Carne wrote a long email to Daley. Daley simply replied, “I acknowledge receipt.”
The lawsuit states that Daley soon after drafted a layoff plan, justified by a declining caseload at WERC, in order to lay off Carne. But case numbers were actually on the rise, the lawsuit states.