Fire, police unions file lawsuits, civil service complaints against W.Va. city

The plaintiffs allege that changes to Morgantown policy will disproportionately affect members' pay and benefits, as well as the departments' ability to hire


Ben Conley
The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In four separate filings Wednesday, the International Association of Fire Firefighters Local 313 and the Mon Preston Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 87 each brought lawsuits and claims of civil service violations against the city of Morgantown.

The lawsuits were filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court. The civil service claims were filed with the city police and fire civil service commissions, respectively.

On Monday, attorney Teresa Toriseva issued a joint statement from the police and fire unions declaring votes of
On Monday, attorney Teresa Toriseva issued a joint statement from the police and fire unions declaring votes of "no confidence " in the city's leadership, including Morgantown City Council, the city manager's office and the city's human resources director. (Image/Morgantown Firefighters IAFF Local 313)

All four were brought on behalf of union members by Wheeling attorney Teresa Toriseva.

On Monday, Toriseva issued a joint statement from both unions declaring votes of "no confidence " in the city's leadership, including Morgantown City Council, the city manager's office and the city's human resources director.

The city doesn't formally recognize either union, meaning "Their only bargaining table is the courtroom, " the IAFF filing states.

Both the police and fire departments have expressed concerns with changes to city policy that, they say, will disproportionately impact their pay and benefits, and therefore, their ability to fill open positions — of which the police department currently has 21.

Morgantown Communications Director Andrew Stacy said the city is aware of Wednesday's filings but does not comment on current or pending litigation.

IAFF Local 313 In a six-count lawsuit against the city, 48 members of the Morgantown Fire Department claim they have essentially had their pay and benefits reduced in retaliation for previous litigation brought against the city—including a 2019 lawsuit regarding holiday pay compensation.

Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Gaujot ruled in favor of the city in that case, which was appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia earlier this year.

Wednesday's filing states that changes to city policy implemented July 1 eliminated a number of benefits, including master firefighter pay (earned after 10 years), hazard pay, shift differential and emergency overtime pay. The changes also capped previously unlimited paid time off accrual at 240, 300 or 360 hours depending on seniority.

"The changes to pay and compensation were unnecessary and arbitrary and designed only to punish, devalue and retaliate against the firefighters for their continued fights in the Courts to be paid, " the lawsuit claims, citing violations of the union member's rights to petition for redress of grievances; retaliation by city officials and violations of the state's whistle-blower law, among others.

As for the civil service case brought against City Manager Kim Haws, it claims the city's new pay and compensation plan illegally reduced firefighter pay outside the provisions provided in state code for retaliatory purposes.

It demands a hearing be held within 10 days and subpoenas be issued to Haws, Assistant City Manager Emily Muzzarelli, Dave Schultz (city payroll), Kathy Pineault (human resources, John Bihun (human resources) and all seven members of Morgantown City Council.

FOP Lodge 87: Much like the IAFF lawsuit, the suit filed on behalf of 43 officers with the Morgantown Police Department claims changes to how officers accrue sick leave, vacation leave, holiday leave and compensatory leave, as well as the elimination of hazard pay and longevity pay, were retaliation for previous legal challenges brought by the FOP.

Those challenges, according to Wednesday's filing, include a successful lawsuit challenging the original scope of the Morgantown Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board as well as an FOP lawsuit seeking the public release of a compensation study recently conducted by the city.

The suit claims violations of the union members' rights to petition for redress of grievances; retaliation by city officials, violations of the state's whistle-blower law and violations of the Wage, Payment and Collection Act.

"The actions the city has taken against its police officers is retaliation against those police officers for ascertaining their various rights in court and notifying the authorities of the city's illegal conduct, " the suit claims.

Similarly, the civil service suit claims the city's actions constitute an illegal reduction in pay undertaken as retaliation.

According to state code, no civil service employee may be reduced in pay outside the scope of civil service code and without a written explanation of the reduction.

The filing demands a hearing within 10 days and subpoenas for Haws, Muzzarelli, Schultz, Bihun and all seven members of the city council.

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(c)2022 The Dominion Post 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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