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A former S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (SCLLR) employee who exposed a culture of cronyism at the embattled agency has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was fired.

Former SCLLR investigator Mark Kelly’s allegations of a “hit list” rocked the agency several months ago – and may have led to the firing of one of S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s family friends.

To read our exclusive report on Kelly’s allegations – published three months ago – click here.

Essentially, Kelly claims that he was targeted for termination by former SCLLR deputy director Ron Cook – whose wife has served as a primary caregiver to Nikki Haley’s children.

According to Kelly, the agency told him he was terminated because he “mouthed off” during a mandatory diversity seminar conducted in May by Carl Wells, the Director of Access and Equity/Diversity Training at the University of South Carolina’s Office of Equal Opportunity Programs.

Kelly and other employees claim that Wells – a Baptist minister – belittled Kelly’s patriotism and his religion during the meeting. Wells disputed this account, however, telling FITS that his comments were “being misrepresented.”

Kelly said he has statements from employees who attended the meeting which will support his version of events. Meanwhile, Wells says he has “documentation” regarding Kelly’s comments.

As for Cook, he has since been released from his full-time position with SCLLR – but has been allowed to continue working for the agency in a part-time capacity as a favor to the governor. Meanwhile S.C. First Gentleman Michael Haley – who tried unsuccessfully this year to get Cook hired by the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) – is reportedly trying to find him a full-time job elsewhere in state government.

To read The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper’s story outlining the lawsuit (which includes a “no comment” from the governor’s office), click here.