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Judge rules case involving retaliatory discharge can proceed

Politics in West Virginia local governments and other locations can often result in complex dealings. A recent out-of-state case alleging retaliatory discharge involving a sheriff's lieutenant illustrates this complexity. The plaintiff in the case claims that he was fired for addressing concerns about an animal shelter with the sheriff.

The plaintiff served as both the sheriff's lieutenant as well as a member of the Board of Supervisors for the county. He claims that he and other members of the Board discussed possible problems at the county's animal shelter, run by the sheriff. It was in his role as Board member and concerned citizen -- not as an employee -- that he took these concerns, including issues regarding the proper care of the animals as well financial concerns, to the sheriff.

Court records indicate that the man claims he was demoted and treated with hostility following the conversation. He was ultimately fired in Oct. 2013. However, he claims that his termination was illegal and even claims that documents presented by the sheriff in court were falsified. Specifically, the sheriff presented typed memos that indicated the plaintiff had been warned for various issues, including insubordination, in the months prior to his investigation. However, a computer expert claims that both documents were typed the month after the man's termination; the sheriff then testified that the documents were typed from handwritten notes made in the months prior to the firing.

A federal judge has recently ruled the the case against the sheriff can proceed. Although two of the plaintiff's claims were dismissed, the judge also ruled that that the sheriff did not have immunity. The sheriff is considering whether to appeal that ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, a surprise inspection of the animal shelter in 2013 found several problems, ultimately prompting control of the facility to be turned over to the county.

Unfortunately, people in West Virginia also experience unjust treatment in the form of retaliatory discharge simply for attempting to bring attention to problems that can likely be corrected. For these victims, there are paths to legal recourse. An attorney with experience with employment law can help them better understand their options and make an informed decision regarding their best course of action.

Source: roanoke.com, "Case against Giles County sheriff may go forward, judge rules", Tonia Moxley, April 15, 2016

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