Governor Asa Hutchinson is being sued by a former Department of Agriculture employee who claims he was fired for refusing to hire an applicant favored by the governor.
The lawsuit filed May 7 in Pulaski County Circuit Court claims Christopher H. Harris was pressured in March of this year by the Deputy Director of the Department’s Livestock and Poultry Commission, Patrick Fisk.
The plaintiff alleges Hutchinson and Fisk violated the Arkansas Whistleblower Protection Act and First Amendment rights.
Allegedly Fisk "at the governor's direction" told Harris he "must hire the individual favored by the governor" rather than the candidate Harris determined was most qualified, Morgan Keener. The position was for a field livestock inspector.
Governor Hutchinson told KUAR in a statement that he wasn’t aware of the issue until the lawsuit was filed. He’s referred the matter to Department of Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward.
“I haven’t read the lawsuit, and I was not aware of this issue until the lawsuit was filed. This is a matter that Secretary Ward will have to address since it involves one of the employees at the Department of Agriculture. Secretary Ward is doing a great job. I trust my agency directors to make good decisions in terms of hiring and firing state employees and in administering their departments.”
A spokesperson for the Arkansas Agriculture Department told KUAR, "The allegations made in the complaint are completely without merit. However, we will not try this case in the media and will allow the Attorney General to respond in the appropriate forum."