The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 30, 2013

Two former Rainelle police officers file lawsuits charging wrongful termination

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

RAINELLE — Two former Rainelle police officers have filed separate lawsuits against the town claiming they were wrongfully terminated from their jobs.

In a suit filed in Greenbrier Circuit Court June 28, Michael Harper claims he was advised by Police Chief J.P. Stevens Nov. 3, 2011, that Harper’s employment was terminated “due to his previously leaving early due to a medical condition.”

Harper maintains the firing was “arbitrary, capricious, discriminating and politically motivated” — the same language used in the other wrongful termination lawsuit, filed July 11 by Thomas Lowe.

Both men claim violations of West Virginia law in that they were not afforded notice and the opportunity to be heard prior to adverse action being taken, and both say they suffered damage to their reputations and economic damages.

In addition, Harper asserts that the town failed to pay the wages due him within the 72 hours of his dismissal that is required by law.

Lowe states he was told by town officials during an employee meeting July 12, 2011, that his employment was being terminated because he “was the lowest on the totem pole, so to speak, and in order (for the town) to employ a new officer,” he had to go.

Lowe says the reason cited at the meeting “was merely pretextual and not the true reason for his termination.”

Rainelle’s response to Harper’s lawsuit was filed Thursday by Jason A. Winnell of the Charleston law firm Schuda and Associates PLLC.

The response denies the allegations set forth in the suit and asserts that, as a Class IV town, Rainelle is not subject to civil service notice and hearing requirements.

Winnell further claims that Harper was “terminated for multiple violations of department policies,” not “some purported medical condition.”

No response has yet been offered to Lowe’s suit, which was filed two weeks later than Harper’s. Both lawsuits were filed by Lewisburg attorney E. Lavoyd Morgan Jr.

Contacted by telephone Monday, Rainelle Mayor Andrea Pendleton told The Register-Herald that the town’s insurance carrier is handling the defense against both suits.

She acknowledged she is aware of both lawsuits but declined to comment.

No hearings have yet been scheduled in either matter.

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