CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Ten former employees of the West Virginia secretary of state's office have filed wrongful termination lawsuits stemming from their dismissals by new Secretary of State Mac Warner.

The suits claim the employees were part of a mass firing orchestrated by Warner so he could replace longtime office staffers with handpicked new hires, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

The workers were part of a 16-employee purge — about one-third of the office's workers — when Warner took office in January.

Warner initially contended the firings were part of a downsizing of the office staff to reduce costs, but he ultimately hired 22 new employees — a throwback to a spoils system that the suits argue is illegal under state law and the West Virginia Constitution.

Warner spokesman Steven Adams said the office doesn't comment on pending litigation.

The suits were filed recently in Kanawha Circuit Court and name the West Virginia Secretary of State as the only defendant.

The lawsuits allege that 15 of the 16 fired employees were registered Democrats, and 19 of the 22 new employees are registered Republicans.

The complaints also note that many of the fired employees, most of whom had between eight and 50 years' experience, were replaced with hires with little or no governmental experience.

Testifying before the state Senate Finance Committee in February, Warner defended the firings. "It's just what we needed to do to move the office forward," he said.

Plaintiffs' attorney Ben Salango said the odds that 15 of the 16 employees Warner fired just happened to be Democrats, and 19 of the 22 new hires just happened to be Republicans, is astronomical.

"You probably have better odds of getting struck by lightning twice," he said.

In addition to wrongful firing, some of the 10 former employees also allege discrimination based on age, gender and/or race.

Warner defeated incumbent Secretary of State Natalie Tennant in November 2016 following a heated campaign in which they differed on numerous issues, including open voter registration, which Warner described as a plot to register Democrats.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.