Woman refiles SAAA lawsuit

Posted: December 7, 2012

The Winchester Star

FRONT ROYAL — Attorneys have refiled a lawsuit on behalf of a former Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging (SAAA) employee who claims she was defamed because her name was linked to financial problems that she had nothing to do with.

Ann T. McIntyre, the agency’s former director of development, still seeks up to $2.35 million in damages from the agency, two of its staff members, the chairman of its board of directors and its lawyer. Friday’s filing in Warren County Circuit Court is the second amended complaint filed in the case.

The previous suit was dismissed on Nov. 9 because Judge Gaylord Finch Jr. ruled that there was not enough evidence in the complaint to show that McIntyre had been defamed. However, he allowed her 21 days to file another complaint.

The SAAA board voted on Sept. 8, 2011, to terminate McIntyre and two other staff members — Helen Cockrell, its president and CEO, and Jim Shaffer, its finance director — following an investigation by a state agency that uncovered major financial irregularities.

The probe was triggered by the discovery of 81 unmailed checks to vendors totaling nearly $265,000 in a safe at the agency. The SAAA did not have enough money in its bank accounts to cover the checks.

The new complaint claims that she was defamed by the agency; Cindy Palmer, its interim CEO; Roberta Lauder, its director of resource development; John Hudson, its board chairman; and Benjamin Butler, its attorney. The four named plaintiffs were sources for information in stories about the SAAA’s financial issues.

The lawsuit alleges that McIntyre’s reputation was damaged because her name was linked to the serious financial problems when she was fired only for violating the SAAA’s policy on credit card use.

“The SAAA had no legitimate basis to terminate Ms. McIntyre and did so carelessly with the intent to make her a scapegoat for an adverse agency filing,” the lawsuit states.

The revised filing is similar to the previous complaints but includes excerpts from seven articles published in The Winchester Star and four stories printed by the Northern Virginia Daily over a 10-day period. The 11 articles were included as exhibits with the filing.

The complaint states that in multiple articles “the implication and context ... strongly suggest that Ms. McIntyre was terminated due to her involvement in illegal financial irregularities, financial mismanagement and possible impropriety when she was not.”

Monique A. Miles, an attorney with Charlson Bredehoft Cohen & Brown in Reston, refiled the lawsuit. Rosalie Fessier of the Staunton firm Timberlake, Smith, Thomas & Moses has represented the SAAA in the case.

Cockrell also sued the agency in 2011, seeking unpaid leave pay and damages for breach of contract.

The agency filed a countersuit alleging that she was terminated for fraud and embezzlement. She dropped her breach-of-contract complaint shortly afterward.

The parties settled their suits in August with no money changing hands. Cockrell and her husband filed for bankruptcy just after that decision.

Virginia State Police launched an investigation into the financial irregularities more than 14 months ago. That probe continues; no criminal charges have been filed.

The SAAA assists senior citizens in six area jurisdictions. Its services include home meals delivery, respite care, transportation, and Medicaid and Medicare assistance.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com