Category Archives: WV Human Rights Act

Legislative Update: Insurance industry seeks amendment to West Virginia Human Rights Act

Insur­ance com­pa­nies have been urg­ing the West Vir­ginia Leg­is­la­ture to pass leg­is­la­tion to over­turn the West Vir­ginia Supreme Court’s deci­sion in Michael v. Appalachi­an Heat­ing, LLC, 701 S.E.2d 116 (June 11, 2010). In Michael, the West Vir­ginia Supreme Court held that the West Vir­ginia Human Rights Act pro­hib­it­ed dis­crim­i­na­tion by an insur­ance com­pa­ny in set­tling claims cov­ered by an insur­ance pol­i­cy.

The Michael Deci­sion

Gen­er­al­ly, the Human Rights Act pro­hibits dis­crim­i­na­tion (1) in the work­place, (2) in places of pub­lic accom­mo­da­tion (like hotels, shop­ping cen­ters), and (3) in con­nec­tion with trans­ac­tions involv­ing hous­ing and real estate (like rent­ing apart­ments and buy­ing hous­es).

But at issue in Michael was sec­tion 5–11-9(7) of the Human Rights Act, which was not lim­it­ed to those three cat­e­gories of activ­i­ty. Here is the rel­e­vant lan­guage in sec­tion 5–11-9(7)(A);

It shall be an unlaw­ful dis­crim­i­na­to­ry prac­tice [based on race, reli­gion, col­or, nation­al ori­gin, ances­try, sex, age, and dis­abil­i­ty] …

(7) For any per­son, employ­er, employ­ment agency, labor orga­ni­za­tion, own­er, real estate bro­ker, real estate sales­man or finan­cial insti­tu­tion to:

(A) Engage in [1] any form of threats or reprisal, or to [2] engage in, or hire, or con­spire with oth­ers to com­mit acts or activ­i­ties of any nature, the pur­pose of which is to harass, degrade, embar­rass or cause phys­i­cal harm or eco­nom­ic loss or [3] to aid, abet, incite, com­pel or coerce any per­son to engage in any of the unlaw­ful dis­crim­i­na­to­ry prac­tices defined in this sec­tion .…

In sub­part (7)(A) above I have brack­et­ed the three spe­cif­ic caus­es of action (legal the­o­ries) which the Supreme Court said are dis­cernible in sub­part (7)(A). I have also bold­ed the sec­ond cause of action, which was the key cause of action at issue in the Michael case.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Leg­isla­tive Update: Insur­ance indus­try seeks amend­ment to West Vir­ginia Human Rights Act

The disastrous consequences of the N-word in the workplace. Just ask Dr. Laura!

Okay, this arti­cle has noth­ing to do with Dr. Lau­ra Sch­lessinger and her “rant” in which she used the N-word repeat­ed­ly on her radio pro­gram when respond­ing to an African-Amer­i­can caller. But the ensu­ing con­tro­ver­sy (see arti­cles for and against Dr. Lau­ra), and her deci­sion to end her long-run­ning radio pro­gram, high­light the extra­or­di­nary sig­nif­i­cance of the N-word term in Amer­i­can soci­ety.

The West Vir­ginia Supreme Court recent­ly dealt with the N-word in a case that high­lights the great risks for employ­ers when that word enters the work­place.

In PAR Elec­tri­cal Con­trac­tors, Inc. v. Bev­elle , — W. Va. –, — S.E.2d –, 2010 WL 2244096 (June 3, 2010) (per curi­am), the West Vir­ginia Supreme Court dealt with a claim of a racial­ly based hos­tile work envi­ron­ment under the West Vir­ginia Human Rights Act, and con­clud­ed that the West Vir­ginia Human Rights Com­mis­sion was jus­ti­fied in find­ing for the employ­ee. The deci­sion was unan­i­mous. Click here for the WV Human Rights Com­mis­sion’s deci­sion which was affirmed by the WV Supreme Court.

A Sin­gle Day, With the N-Word Again and Again

PAR Elec­tri­cal was build­ing “giant tow­ers” for a high volt­age elec­tri­cal trans­mis­sion line. Richard Wayne Bev­elle was hired by PAR Elec­tri­cal on March 22, 2005, and, after work­ing as a “ground­man” assem­bling the tow­er bases, was assigned to load heli­copters with parts to con­struct the tow­ers (this heli­copter job was described as a “gravy job” by the Human Rights Com­mis­sion). Mr. Bev­elle is African-Amer­i­can.

Con­tin­ue read­ing The dis­as­trous con­se­quences of the N-word in the work­place. Just ask Dr. Lau­ra!

Charleston, WV Jury Awards $1.7m in Age Discrimination Case, 10–1-09

On Octo­ber 1, 2009, a jury in Charleston, Kanawha Coun­ty, West Vir­ginia returned a ver­dict in an age dis­crim­i­na­tion case, award­ing James Nagy a total of $1,750,450.

The Law­suit

James Nagy filed suit in Charleston in March 2008 against West Vir­ginia Amer­i­can Water Com­pa­ny, alleg­ing that he was fired in March 2007 because of his age at 53, after 23 years of employ­ment.

James Nagy was rep­re­sent­ed by Maria W. Hugh­es and Stephen Weber at Kay Cas­to & Chaney PLLC. West Vir­ginia Amer­i­can Water Com­pa­ny was rep­re­sent­ed by Mychal Schulz at Dins­more & Shohl LLC.

The case is pend­ing in Cir­cuit Court in Kanawha Coun­ty, West Vir­ginia, before Judge Jen­nifer Bai­ley-Walk­er.

The Ver­dict

That $1,750,450 ver­dict con­sist­ed of:

  • $150,000 for humil­i­a­tion,

Award of Attorney’s Fees and Expens­es

Under the West Vir­ginia Human Rights Act (which pro­hibits age and oth­er forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion in the work­place), Nagy’s coun­sel filed a motion addi­tion­al­ly request­ing attor­neys’ fees and expens­es.

Judge Bai­ley-Walk­er award­ed the plain­tiff total attorney’s fees of $177,772.50, and $8,855.33 in expens­es.

Appeal

The Defen­dant is in the process of appeal­ing.  The issue of attor­neys’ fees was resolved by Judge Bai­ley-Walk­er on June 8, 2010, so the appeal process is in its ear­ly stages as of the date of this arti­cle being updat­ed (July 31, 2010). As things devel­op in the appeal, I will update this arti­cle.

July 31, 2010

Sorry boss, I didn’t know you were having sex in the office!!

The West Vir­ginia Supreme Court recent­ly issued an opin­ion deal­ing with one of those stereo­typ­i­cal­ly awk­ward sit­u­a­tions, where an employ­ee alleged­ly stum­bles into a room where the boss is hav­ing sex with a co-work­er. The deci­sion was  Roth v. DeFe­lice­Care, Inc., – W. Va. –, — S.E.2d –, 2010 WL 2346248 (June 8, 2010) (per curi­am). It was a 3–2 deci­sion, in which the 3-vote major­i­ty con­sist­ed of Jus­tices Robin Davis, Mar­garet Work­man, and  Thomas McHugh. Jus­tices Menis Ketchum and Brent Ben­jamin dis­sent­ed, and Jus­tice Ketchum wrote a dis­sent­ing opin­ion.

The Facts–Sex at Work

These are the facts accord­ing to the com­plaint in the law­suit: Tri­cia Roth was a res­pi­ra­to­ry ther­a­pist work­ing at DeFe­lice­Care, Inc. in Ohio Coun­ty, West Vir­ginia, and she was about to go on vaca­tion. She was direct­ed by Leslie DeFe­lice (the male boss/owner) to come to work some­time dur­ing the week­end pre­ced­ing her vaca­tion in June 2006. She was not told a spe­cif­ic time to come to work dur­ing that week­end. When she came to work as ordered, she “observed Defen­dant [Leslie] DeFe­lice and/or Michelle Kel­ly par­tial­ly clothed and in a com­pro­mis­ing posi­tion”. Mr. DeFe­lice instruct­ed Ms. Roth to go into a con­fer­ence room and wait–meanwhile Mr. DeFe­lice and the oth­er employ­ee got all their clothes back on. Mr. DeFe­lice then talked to Ms. Roth and told her to for­get about what she had just seen, and threat­ened Ms. Ross with the loss of her res­pi­ra­to­ry ther­a­py license and the loss of her employ­ment.

Ms. Roth then went on vaca­tion. When she got back from vaca­tion and returned to work, she had a meet­ing with Mr. DeFe­lice that didn’t go well. Ms. Roth told Mr. DeFe­lice that she hadn’t told any­one about his sex­u­al encounter at work. Mr. DeFe­lice pro­ceed­ed to fire Ms. Roth because “he did not like how she was dressed” and “he did not like the style[/]color of her hair”.

Ms. Roth Files Suit–Case Dis­missed

Ms. Roth then filed suit on legal the­o­ries cen­ter­ing around sex dis­crim­i­na­tion and sex­u­al harass­ment, and–bada bing!–the case prompt­ly got dis­missed.

Ms. Roth’s com­plaint (the doc­u­ment which starts the law­suit and describes the plaintiff’s alle­ga­tions) focused on the sex­u­al inci­dent I have described above, but also made alle­ga­tions about oth­er sex­u­al harassment–I will dis­cuss those details below.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Sor­ry boss, I didn’t know you were hav­ing sex in the office!!

Jackson County jury awards $2.1 million in age case

On March 17, 2010, a jury in Jack­son Coun­ty in West Vir­ginia award­ed Jerold John Rice Jr. rough­ly $2.1 mil­lion in an age dis­crim­i­na­tion case against The Burke-Par­sons-Bowl­by Cor­po­ra­tion, Stel­la-Jones US Hold­ings Cor­po­ra­tion, and Stel­la-Jones, Inc., tried in Judge Thomas C. Evans III’s court.

Mr. Rice was rep­re­sent­ed by Mark Atkin­son and Paul Framp­ton at Atkin­son & Polak, PLLC, and the defen­dants were rep­re­sent­ed by Roger Wolfe at Jack­son & Kel­ly PLLC in Charleston, and Kevin Hyde at Foley & Lard­ner, LLP in Jack­sonville, Flori­da.

Here is a quick run-down of what was award­ed in the case:

  • Back pay: $142,659 award­ed by jury.
  • Pre-judg­ment inter­est: $11,791.84 from date of ter­mi­na­tion through tri­al.
  • Front pay: $1,991,332.00 award­ed by jury (from rough­ly age 48 through retire­ment age at 67).
  • Emo­tion­al dis­tress: $0.
  • Puni­tive dam­ages: Jury did not answer ques­tion affir­ma­tive­ly which would have allowed award of puni­tive dam­ages.
  • Total judg­ment based on jury’s ver­dict: $2,145,782.84, plus post-judg­ment inter­est on that amount at 7% per annum.
  • Attor­neys’ fees: $117,235 award­ed by judge (based on $450 an hour for Mark Atkin­son and $300 per hour for Paul Framp­ton).
  • Lit­i­ga­tion expens­es: $20,324.16 award­ed by judge.
  • Total award: $2,283,342.00 (based on jury ver­dict, pre-judg­ment inter­est, attor­neys’ fees and expens­es) plus post-judg­ment inter­est at 7% per annum.

The Rice case illus­trates the risk employ­ers face when they ter­mi­nate an old­er, good, long-stand­ing employ­ee, and replace him or her with a much younger per­son with lit­tle or no expe­ri­ence for the employ­er.

What Hap­pened?

Mr. Rice at the time of his ter­mi­na­tion (in 2009) was age 47 and had worked for Burke-Par­sons-Bowl­by Cor­po­ra­tion for 24 years. When Mr. Rice was ter­mi­nat­ed he was the cor­po­rate con­troller.

Con­tin­ue read­ing Jack­son Coun­ty jury awards $2.1 mil­lion in age case

WV Supreme Court Enforces Employment Arbitration Agreement in Clites v. Clawges, 10–13-09

10–13-09: The West Vir­ginia Supreme Court addressed the enforce­abil­i­ty of employ­ment arbi­tra­tion agree­ments in State ex rel. Clites v. Clawges, 224 W. Va. 299, 685 S.E.2d 693 (2009) (opin­ion at Findlaw’s web site). This Clites deci­sion is dis­cussed in my chart of West Vir­ginia Supreme Court deci­sions.

Clites Goes To Work For TeleTech And Signs An Arbi­tra­tion Agree­ment

WV Capitol Building The plain­tiff, Jill Clites, went to work for TeleTech in Octo­ber 2004 as a Cus­tomer Ser­vice Rep­re­sen­ta­tive. Dur­ing new employ­ee ori­en­ta­tion, Clites met with a human resources rep­re­sen­ta­tive for about 90 to 120 min­utes, dur­ing which time Clites reviewed and signed a large num­ber of doc­u­ments relat­ed to the ori­en­ta­tion. In the record before the West Vir­ginia Supreme Court, there were dis­putes over whether indi­vid­ual doc­u­ments were dis­cussed with Clites and whether she was required to sing all the doc­u­ments dur­ing the ori­en­ta­tion ses­sion, but it appears that dur­ing that ses­sion Clites signed an arbi­tra­tion agree­ment which TeleTech required of most or all new employ­ees.

Clites remained employed at TeleTech until July 12, 2007, when she was ter­mi­nat­ed. She then filed suit for sex­u­al harass­ment and retal­i­a­tion. Clites alleged she com­plained about the sex­u­al harass­ment, that TeleTech failed to take appro­pri­ate cor­rec­tive action, and that TeleTech retal­i­at­ed against her for the com­plaint by fir­ing her.

Clites Files Suit In West Vir­ginia Cir­cuit Court

Clites filed suit in West Vir­ginia Cir­cuit Court in Mor­gan­town. TeleTech then invoked the arbi­tra­tion agree­ment by fil­ing a motion to dis­miss the law­suit and by fil­ing a sep­a­rate law­suit in fed­er­al court argu­ing that Clites waived her rights to a jury tri­al by sign­ing the arbi­tra­tion agree­ment. In essence, TeleTech argued that Clites gave up her rights to file suit and to a jury tri­al by sign­ing the arbi­tra­tion agree­ment, and that her only rem­e­dy was to file an arbi­tra­tion pro­ceed­ing (with the Amer­i­can Arbi­tra­tion Asso­ci­a­tion) pur­suant to the arbi­tra­tion agree­ment.

Con­tin­ue read­ing WV Supreme Court Enforces Employ­ment Arbi­tra­tion Agree­ment in Clites v. Clawges, 10–13–09

Chart of West Virginia Supreme Court Decisions on Employment Issues

WV Supreme Court Justices, click here to open chart of employment decisions

 

 

I have pre­pared a chart con­tain­ing a sum­ma­ry of West Virginia Supreme Court deci­sions sig­nif­i­cant­ly affect­ing employ­ment law. The chart starts on Jan­u­ary 1, 2009, with deci­sions issued after that date. The chart con­tains hyper­links to the opin­ions, both on the West Vir­ginia Supreme Court’s web site, and on Find­law or on Google Schol­ar. If you click on the pho­tos of each Jus­tice (in the chart, not on the image above), that will take you to the biog­ra­phy page for that Jus­tice on the Supreme Court’s web site. Final­ly, the chart con­tains hyper­links to this blog.

Click the line below to open the chart, which is an Adobe Acro­bat PDF:

WV Supreme Court Employ­ment Deci­sions

(click here to down­load the free Acro­bat Read­er, if you don’t already have it installed on your com­put­er).

This chart is copy­right pro­tect­ed by Drew M. Capud­er and Capud­er Fan­ta­sia PLLC. You have per­mis­sion to dis­trib­ute this chart only if you dis­trib­ute the chart unedit­ed by any­one oth­er than Drew Capud­er. In oth­er words, you may dis­trib­ute this chart only in its orig­i­nal form as down­loaded from Drew Capuder’s Employ­ment Law Blog.

WV Supreme Court rules that employer’s policy and prompt action protected it against liability; Colgan Air v WV HRC; 10/25/07

West Virginia Capitol Building at Night Octo­ber 25, 2007: In Col­gan Air, Inc. v. West Vir­ginia Human Rights Com­mis­sion, 221 W. Va. 588, 656 S.E.2d 33 (1977) the West Vir­ginia Supreme Court addressed claims of harass­ment (based on reli­gion and nation­al ori­gin) and retal­i­a­tion under the WV Human Rights Act, W. Va. Code § 5–11-1 et seq.

The plain­tiff was a pilot, Rao Zahid Khan, who alleged that his co-work­ers sub­ject­ed him to fre­quent deroga­to­ry and insult­ing com­ments about his nation­al ori­gin and reli­gion (he was Ara­bic). The West Vir­ginia Supreme Court ruled that Col­gan Air (a) was not liable for harass­ment because it had poli­cies and pro­ce­dures pro­hibit­ing harass­ment and took swift and deci­sive action after learn­ing about the harass­ment, and (b) was not liable for retal­i­a­tion because Col­gan Air ter­mi­nat­ed the employ­ee (Mr. Khan) for a legit­i­mate and non-dis­crim­i­na­to­ry reason–he failed to pass a manda­to­ry FAA pro­fi­cien­cy test for pilots.

Con­tin­ue read­ing WV Supreme Court rules that employer’s pol­i­cy and prompt action pro­tect­ed it against lia­bil­i­ty; Col­gan Air v WV HRC; 10/25/07