Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court granting summary judgment for Defendant and dismissing Plaintiff's age discrimination claim, holding that genuine issues of material fact remained as to whether Defendant was entitled to the benefit of a severance agreement and general release. Plaintiff, who worked for nineteen years as an area supervisor of One Stop convenience stores, lost his job after Defendant leased approximately forty-one of those stores. Plaintiff applied for a job with Defendant but was not hired. Plaintiff filed suit alleging age discrimination in violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiff had released any employment-related claims against Defendant when he executed a severance agreement and general release with his former employer and its corporate affiliates. The circuit court granted the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that genuine issues of material fact existed as to the applicability of the release agreement to Plaintiff's claim against Defendant. View "Henzler v. Turnoutz, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court affirming the order of the Public Grievance Board denying as untimely the grievance brought by Melissa Wilfong challenging the alleged failure to the Board of Education of Randolph County to place her in a full-time administrative position, holding that Wilfong's grievance was untimely. Wilfong was employed as a half-time principal and half-time teacher at Valley Head Elementary School, which closed at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. In April 2017 the Board notified Wilfong that she had been approved for transfer to another position but informed her that she did not yet have an assignment for the following school year. In August 2017, Wilfong accepted a full-time teaching position. That same day, Wilfong filed her grievance complaining that the Board failed to place her in an administrative position. The Grievance Board denied the grievance as untimely. The circuit court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Wilfong filed her grievance outside the fifteen-day window provided by W. Va. Code 6C-2-4(a)(1), the grievance was not timely filed. View "Wilfong v. Randolph County Board of Education" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the rulings of the circuit court finding that the Workplace Freedom Act (the Act) infringes upon the rights to associate, as well as the liberty and property rights, of labor unions that are member organizations of the AFL-CIO (Labor Unions), holding that the Act does not violate constitutional rights at issue. In 2016, the Legislature enacted the Act, which prohibits collective bargaining agreements that require an employee to pay any dues, fees, assessments, or other similar charges as a condition of employment, or as a condition for the continuation of employment, when the employee has chosen not to join a union. On remand, the circuit court ruled that the Act unconstitutionally fringes on the rights of the Labor Unions, who represent both private and government workers in West Virginia. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Act does not violate the West Virginia Constitution's protections of association, property, and liberty rights. View "Morrisey v. West Virginia AFL-CIO" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court reversing a decision of the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board that had dismissed, as untimely filed, a grievance filed by Respondent, holding that there was no basis in the record for the circuit court to find that the Board improperly dismissed Respondent's grievance as untimely filed. Respondent filed a grievance alleging that he should have been appointed for a position in the Highway Engineer classification with the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH). The Board granted DOH's motion to dismiss the grievance as untimely filed. The circuit court reversed, finding that the grievance was timely filed under the discovery rule. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the time period for filing an employment selection grievance under W. Va. Code 6C-2-4(a)(1) begins when the grievance is unequivocally notified of the selection decision by the employer, not when the grievance discovers facts about the person selected for the position. View "West Virginia Division of Highways v. Powell" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered in the negative a question certified by the federal district court by concluding that W. Va. Code 61-3-24 does not constitute a substantial public policy of the State of West Virginia that would support a cause of action for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy pursuant to Harless v. First National Bank, 162 W.Va. 116, and its progeny. Plaintiff filed a whistleblower claim against her employer under the Dodd-Frank Act, 15 U.S.C. 78u-6, but the United States Supreme Court's decision in Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, __ U.S. __ (2018), rendered Plaintiff's claim not viable. Plaintiff then argued that her only recourse was a common law retaliatory discharge claim under Harless, alleging that she was discharged in violation of the substantial public policy set forth in W. Va. Code 61-3-24. The district court found that a certified question was appropriate. The Supreme Court answered that section 61-3-24 does not constitute a substantial public policy under Harless to protect an employee of a non-public employer who claims to have been retaliated against for reporting suspected criminal conduct to the appropriate authority. View "Blanda v. Martin & Seibert, LC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts (WVDEA) on Petitioner's claims brought under the West Virginia Human Rights Act (Act), W. Va. Code 5-11-1 through -21, holding that the circuit court properly granted summary judgment on Petitioner's failure-to-accommodate and constructive discharge claims. Prior to resigning from her position of employment for the WVDEA Petitioner asked the WVDEA to permit her to work weekends from home rather than requiring her to take paid leave for her required weekly absences due to medical treatments. WVDEA did not accommodate that request. Petitioner ultimately sued alleging that she was unlawfully denied a reasonable accommodation and that she was constructively discharged as a result of the denial of her requested accommodation. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the WVDEA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Petitioner did not require a work-from-home accommodation; and (2) Petitioner's constructive discharge claim, premised on the denial of her request for accommodation, failed as a matter of law. View "Burns v. West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the final order of the circuit court determining that Plaintiff's complaint filed against Defendants alleging wrongful discharge in contravention of substantial public policy failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, holding that Plaintiff failed adequately to plead the self-defense exception to the at will employment doctrine. Plaintiff, who was employed by Defendants as an at will employee, was fired after he engaged in a physical altercation with a co-worker in the workplace. Plaintiff later brought a complaint alleging that he was wrongfully discharged because he used "only absolutely necessary force to defend himself." The circuit court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss, holding that where Plaintiff was engaged in an altercation that did not involve a threat of lethal immune danger he was not fired in violation of substantial public policy. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff's complaint failed to contain any facts indicating that he faced lethal imminent danger, and therefore, Plaintiff failed to adequately plead the self-defense exception to the at will employment doctrine set forth in Feliciano v. 7-Eleven, Inc., 559 S.E.2d 713 (W. Va. 2001). View "Newton v. Morgantown Machine & Hydraulics of West Virginia, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court insofar as it denied summary judgment to Beth Thompson on Joseph Whitt's intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment claims, holding that Thompson was immune from liability on those claims. Whitt was terminated from his employment as IT Director for Cabell County. Whitt sued Thompson, the Cabell County Administrator who informed Whitt of his termination, and the Cabell County Commission, which made the decision to terminate. The circuit court denied Thompson's motion for summary judgment on grounds of immunity and both Defendants' motions for summary judgment on the merits of the substantive claims in the complaint. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the court's order insofar as it denied statutory immunity to Thompson on the claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment, holding that Thompson was entitled to immunity; and (2) declined to review the court's ruling denying summary judgment on Whitt's whistleblower claims. View "Cabell County Commission v. Whitt" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court denying Defendant's motion to dismiss and remanded this case to the circuit court for the entry of an order dismissing Plaintiff's claims against Defendant, holding that the circuit court exceeded its jurisdiction by failing to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against Defendant. Plaintiff was injured while working for Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc. and was subsequently terminated. Defendant, Old Dominion's third-party claims administrator, denied Plaintiff's claim for workers' compensation benefits on behalf of Old Dominion. Plaintiff sued Defendant. Defendant moved to dismiss Plaintiff's claims, but the circuit court judge denied the motion. The Supreme Court granted Defendant's motion for a writ of prohibition, holding that the circuit court exceeded its legitimate powers when it refused to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against Defendant. View "State ex rel. Gallagher Bassett Services v. Honorable Carrie Webster" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the circuit court reversing the order of the Executive Director of the Governor's Committee on Crime, Delinquency, and Corrections (Petitioner) decertifying Respondent as a law enforcement officer in the State of West Virginia, holding that the circuit court applied the incorrect statutory provisions to this matter and the proceedings below. On appeal, Petitioner argued that the circuit court applied the incorrect statutes to define the scope of the Law Enforcement Professional Standards Subcommittee's authority and incorrectly applied the due process protections in employment disputes to a proceeding governing law enforcement professional certification. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the circuit court applied the incorrect statutory provisions, and therefore, the court also erred in concluding that the civil service hearing proceedings must precede decertification proceedings. View "Thorton v. Ward" on Justia Law