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Ex-Patronis staffer sues, saying she was fired after not donating to campaign

A senior employee with the Department of Financial Services has sued her boss, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
Jimmy Patronis,[MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
Jimmy Patronis,[MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Nov. 1, 2018
Updated Nov. 1, 2018

A senior employee with the Department of Financial Services has sued her boss, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, alleging she was fired for not donating to his campaign or attending a fundraiser event for his reelection.

According to a complaint filed Monday, Christine Taul, a 32-year veteran of the department, received a phone call at work from a third party inviting her to a fundraiser being held for the CFO on Aug. 20. The caller told Taul to "bring a check."

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Tallahassee Wednesday.

Taul, a registered Democrat, was scheduled to leave Tallahassee for a vacation on the day of the fundraiser. Her attorneys said she wasn't planning to attend anyway because of her differing political views.

When she returned from her vacation on Aug. 27, she was told she would be terminated. Taul, who had been an administrator for the CFO's risk management program since 1994, resigned instead. In September, Taul's attorneys sent a letter to the CFO's office in demanding she be reinstated with full backpay.

The department's general counsel, Chasity O'Steen, said the department did not know of any third party activity, and that attributing the phone to the CFO's office was an "erroneous assumption." O'Steen said Taul was terminated because she failed to show improvement after mandatory remedial trainings in April 2018. Taul was also responsible for an employee who lied about her hours on a timesheet.

O'Steen said the department was within its rights to discipline Taul for her poor performance, even after counseling and remedial trainings. The trainings were held by an employee relations manager, and were meant to be a "refresher," according to emails obtained from the office.

Taul's personnel file, however, shows she received a "commendable" overall rating in 2017. Her manager wrote that she is a "valued asset to the Division" and that her "experience and knowledge are often utilized in solving complicated issues."

Patronis, a Panama City republican and former state representative, was appointed into the role in 2017 after Jeff Atwater resigned for a position at Florida Atlantic University. He is running against former state senator and Yahoo executive Democrat Jeremy Ring, of Broward County.

"The timing of this ridiculous accusation seems like a sad politically based attack," said Patronis' campaign spokeswoman Katie Strickland.

Taul's attorney denied that the accusation was political.

"If this was a sleazy election tactic, then we wouldn't have tried to be reinstated without litigation," Ryan Andrews. "We wouldn't have asked Mr. Patronis to reinstate with no harm, no foul. "