Justia West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment 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

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court denying Petitioners' appeal and petition for writ of mandamus and affirming the order issued by the Martinsburg Police Civil Service Commission, holding that the circuit court did not err in ruling that the Commission's awarding points to a candidate on competitive examination for promotion based on education credentials did not violate the requirements of the Police Civil Service Act (Act), W. Va. Code 8-14-6 to -24. Petitioners, both of the Martinsburg Police Department, sat for competitive examinations for promotions. Without the consideration of points for education, both petitioners would have finished with sufficient scores for promotion. The Commissioner heard Petitioners' arguments on the legality of awarding points for education and found no basis to deviate from its established rule. The circuit court affirmed the final order issued by the Commission. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not commit reversible error in concluding that the Commission's consideration of higher education as a component of "experience" under the Act was consistent with the Act's purpose of ensuring meritorious promotions. View "Burner v. Martinsburg Police Civil Service Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the circuit court finding a delegation clause in an arbitration agreement unconscionable and refusing to enforce the arbitration agreement, holding that the delegation clause was neither unconscionable nor unenforceable. Respondent, who was terminated from her employment, filed workers' compensation discrimination claims against Petitioners. Petitioner moved to compel arbitration based on the arbitration agreement that Respondent signed at the time she was hired. The circuit court refused to enforce the arbitration agreement on the grounds that the agreement's delegation clause was ambiguous, unconscionable and in violation of W. Va. Code 23-2-7. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the delegation clause clearly and unmistakably showed the parties' intent to send gateway questions of arbitration to an arbitrator; (2) the delegation clause was valid; and (3) the circuit court should have referred the parties' arguments about the enforceability of the arbitration agreement to the arbitrator. View "Rent-A-Center Inc. v. Ellis" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant in this disability discrimination action brought by Plaintiff alleging that Defendant refused to hire him because of his physical disability, holding that Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of intentional disability discrimination. Plaintiff brought this action alleging that Defendant’s refusal to hire him constituted disability discrimination in violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W.Va. Code 5-11-1 to -20. Defendant moved for summary judgment, asserting that it declined to hire Plaintiff because a pre-employment physical examination revealed that Plaintiff’s disability prevented him from completing essential responsibilities of the job and that Plaintiff did not ask for any reasonable accommodation that would allow him to complete those essential tasks. Rather, Defendant asserted, Plaintiff merely sought the complete rejection of the physician’s physical examination report. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Defendant was entitled to rely upon the physician’s report and that Plaintiff failed pos how that any reasonable accommodations were demanded or even existed. View "Woods v. Jefferds Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the Board of Review in these consolidated workers’ compensation cases, holding that the four claimants’ applications for occupational pneumoconiosis (OP) benefits were properly rejected pursuant to W. Va. Code 23-4-15(b). Section 23-4-15(b) provides that a claimant may either file an OP claim within three years of the claimant’s date of last exposure to the hazards of OP or within three years of the date a diagnosed impairment due to OP was made known to the claimant by a physician. None of the claimants here filed an application within three years of their date of last exposure. Relying on the second time limitation, however, the claimants asserted that because they were not informed by a physician that they had a diagnosed impairment due to OP, they were not barred from filing new claims with the same date of last exposure as in their prior claims. The Supreme Court ruled that the claims were properly rejected, holding that the claimants’ interpretation of the statute was unconvincing. View "Pennington v. W.Va. Office of Insurance Commissioner" on Justia Law