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Published: Thursday, 3/4/2010

Ohio government workers say they were fired over faith


COLUMBUS - The director of a little-known legislative council helping to oversee the state's agency for injured workers often asked her three-member staff to pray and judged them "on the quality of their faith" before firing them, the staffers say.

The two staff attorneys and an executive assistant accuse Virginia McInerney, director of the Ohio Workers' Compensation Council, of wrongful discharge, religious discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

"I deny the wrongdoing they are alleging," she said last night.

The Feb. 16 firings are raising questions about what happened in the council, which is to receive more than $1 million in Bureau of Workers' Compensation funds this fiscal year.

According to the workers, Ms. McInerney told them that she believed God placed her in the job. They said she led the staff in prayer, asked a worker to listen to and take notes on "God at Work" CDs, and complained that a Senate resolution to privatize the bureau was "another of Satan's efforts to stall or impede the council's progress."

"It became increasingly clear that the director was judging employees not on professional performance but on the quality of their faith, according to her beliefs," staff attorney Kim H. Finley wrote in a letter this week to state Sen. Stephen Buehrer (R., Delta), chairman of the council.

Staff attorney Shadya Y. Yazback and executive assistant Stephanie Susan Irwin also sent letters to Mr. Buehrer on Tuesday protesting their firings. The council is not part of the Bureau of Workers' Compensation but was created in 2007 after a series of bureau investment scandals. Ms. McInerney, 52, who had been employed at the Ohio Legislative Services Commission, started as director on July 6, 2008, at a salary of $102,500 a year, according to state personnel records. She has appeared on the 700 Club, written a book about Christian singles.

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