5 former Arizona child welfare workers file claim of wrongful termination, seek $10.5M

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PHOENIX — Five former Arizona child welfare workers are seeking $10.5 million from the state in a wrongful termination claim filed this week after they were fired amid an agency scandal.

The ex-Child Protective Services employees argue that their terminations were the result of officials "seeking to foist blame on innocent employees least capable of defending themselves," according to the claim, a precursor to a potential lawsuit.

"Our clients were made the public scapegoats for a program they neither devised nor authorized to divert negative political consequences away from others," the claim states.

Jennifer Bowser-Richards, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Child Safety, declined to comment Thursday, citing the pending litigation.

In November, the state's CPS agency was rocked by the discovery that workers had for several years been improperly marking some calls to a hotline as not worthy of being investigated. The scandal led to the demise of the agency and the creation of the Department of Child Safety, which focuses solely on that mission.

Last month, a team formed to address the problems announced it had closed all the neglected cases and removed nearly 600 children from caregivers. It was a major milestone in the revitalization of the state's child welfare efforts after the discovery that some 6,600 case went uninvestigated.

The five former CPS workers who filed the claim this week were fired after the director of the new agency determined they had created a system that misclassified incoming hotline calls.

The workers defended their actions at the time, saying they followed orders to create a system that culled out low-priority cases and lowered crushing caseloads.

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