City and officials pending litigation
Two former City of Sistersville employees who were among the five who resigned in August 2012 are taking legal action against the City of Sistersville and two of its leading officials. Civil action papers filed in the Tyler County Circuit Court reveal the claims of former City Clerk Patricia Soliday and former Clerk and Treasurer Diana Mace against the defendant city, Mayor David Fox, and Recorder Julie Schleier.
In these documents, Mace and Soliday claim that their August resignations were the result of an illegal and hostile working environment allegedly created by Fox and Schleier in retaliation of the then-clerks’ questioning and reporting of illegal, improper, or unethical practices. Their legal complaints describe the altered working conditions as “so intolerable that any reasonable person would be compelled to resign their employment.”
Mace’s complaint suggests “a civil conspiracy to oust her from her position at City Clerk and Treasurer so that the Defendants could give her job to then-councilwoman, defendant, Julie Schleier.”
Furthermore, the complaint recognizes the possibility that their “whistleblowing” may have started an investigation by the West Virginia Ethics Commission. Executive Director Theresa Kirk of the West Virginia Ethics Commission stated, however, that she could not reveal the legitimacy of an investigation.
Mace and Soliday claim that, following their resignations, the defendants made defamatory statements accusing the plaintiffs of embezzling public funds from the City of Sistersville by using it to pay for Soliday’s health insurance premiums.
Soliday’s complaint states that Fox accused her of using her position in city government to steal water and sewage from the City of Sistersville by manipulating the bill for her home in July 2012 to reflect the minimum monthly charge rather than her actual usage. It further states that Fox and Schleier impugned her good character by instructing the West Virginia Public Employees Retirement Board that her departure from employment was “for reasons other than honorable.”
Mace and Soliday deny the truth of these defamatory statements which they claim were made against them and allegedly published by the defendants to third parties. They suggest that alleged intentional interference by the defendants caused a delay in their receiving pension and unemployment benefits.
Both complaints cite negligence by Fox and the City of Sistersville by breaching its duties to the plaintiffs in one or more of the following particulars: negligent hiring or supervision of city officers or employees; failure to protect city employees from retaliatory conduct and a work environment hostile to “whistleblower” employees; failure to respond to employee notices and complaints of a hostile or retaliatory work place environment; failure to respond to employee notices and complaints of unlawful or illegal practices; and failure to adhere to lawful and appropriate practices for the operation of its day-to-day business. The plaintiffs claim that these alleged acts and omissions caused them to be subjected to a hostile work environment and to be retaliated against in violation of West Virginia public policy.
Mace and Soliday seek compensation and recovery for alleged damages as follows: their losses of employment with the City of Sistersville, for which they seek injunctive relief in the form of reinstatement if the current administration resigns or is ousted; lost wages past and future, lost income, lost employment opportunity and economic losses; loss of employment benefits; interference with pension benefits; interference with and an ability to temporarily access unemployment benefits; severe mental anguish and emotional distress; annoyance, inconvenience, severe embarrassment, severe humiliation, chagrin, fear, and other similar general damages; damage to her reputation and character; pre-judgment and post-judgment interest where allowable; and attorney’s fees, costs as may be appropriate.
They also seek, if their claims are judged to be true, that the defendants be punished for their alleged illegal conduct to deter the defendants and others similarly situated from engaging in similar conduct in the future.
All plaintiffs and defendants involved declined comment in regard to the pending legal litigation. Diana Mace and Patricia Soliday are being represented by Jividen Law Offices, while services for the defendant city and representatives have been retained by the city through Steptoe and Johnson. No hearing date has been set.