City officials answer legal complaints
Sistersville Mayor David Fox and Recorder Julie Schleier have responded to pending legal claims made against them and the city by former Clerk and Treasurer Diana Mace and former Clerk Patricia Soliday. Mayor Fox and Schleier deny committing any illegal actions brought forth in the claims, which refer to the August resignations of Mace and Soliday and predate the alleged events leading to their departures from employment with the city.
The alleged events listed in the complaints, which have at the moment not been proven or unproven in a court of law, are as follows:
-Mayor Fox and then-councilwoman Schleier took part in a civil conspiracy to oust Mace from her position as City Clerk and Treasurer so that then-councilwoman Schleier could step into the position.
-The plaintiffs’ whistleblowing may have started an investigation by the West Virginia Ethics Commission which resulted in a work environment hostile to “whistleblower” employees.
-Mayor Fox made defamatory statements accusing the plaintiffs of embezzling public funds from the city by using it to pay for Soliday’s health insurance premiums.
-Mayor Fox accused plaintiff Soliday of using her position to steal water and sewage from the city.
-Intentional interference by the defendants caused a delay in plaintiffs’ receiving of benefits.
-Negligence was committed by Fox and the city in the hiring or supervision of city officers or employees,
-There was a failure to protect city employees from a work environment hostile to “whistleblower” employees.
-There was a failure to respond to employee notices and complaints of unlawful or illegal practices.
-There was a failure to adhere to lawful and appropriate practices for the operation of day-to-day business.
Also in her complaint, Soliday claimed that Mayor Fox impugned her good character by instructing the W.Va. Public Employees Retirement Board that her departure from employment was “for reasons other than honorable”. In regard to her suggestion of “impugning”, Mayor Fox’s answer states that “it was the Defendants’ understanding that indicating that Plaintiff’s departure was ‘for reasons other than honorable’ was the correct response to check on the form that the Defendants were asked to complete.”
As for the possible result of their whistleblowing activity, Joan Parker, executive director of the West Virginia Ethics Commission, could neither confirm nor deny an investigation.
“None of the complaints made public by the Ethics Commission have involved any officials from the City of Sistersville,” she said.
The defenses of Mayor Fox and Schleier are as follows:
-The complaints fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
-They accept the immunities granted to the city as a political subdivision of the State of West Virginia
-They deny that any employee, agent, or servant of the city is guilty of contributing to a hostile work environment, participating in a civil conspiracy, interfering with contractual relationships, committing negligence of duties, engaging in misconduct, or acting intentionally to cause damages.
-They plead defenses, such as fair comment, First Amendment, truth, mitigation, and privilege, to defamation as applicable to the case.
-They reserve the right to add defenses which might later be revealed during the course of litigation and other discoveries relating to it.
-Some of the claims are barred by the statute of limitations or doctrine of laches.
-A portion of the claims should be reduced due to a failure to mitigate claimed damages.
-They acted at all times in good faith based on reasonable, legitimate, nondiscriminatory business factors.
-Claimed damages should be reduced if further evidence is acquired which would have supported a discharge of plaintiff(s).
-Allegedly defamatory publications referred to in the complaint are qualified, conditionally privileged, and made in good faith.
-While denying that they committed any illegal conduct listed in the claims, the actions complained of occurred for separate and legitimate, non-retaliatory reasons.
-The conduct of the plaintiff(s) was the sole cause of the damages claimed by the plaintiff(s).
Mace and Soliday seek compensation and recovery for alleged damages as follows:
-Reinstatement if the current administration resigns or is ousted.
-Reimbursements of lost wages, lost income, lost employment opportunity and economic losses, loss of employment benefits, interference with pension benefits and interference with the ability to temporarily access unemployment benefits.
-Pre-judgment and post-judgment interest where allowable.
-Severe mental anguish and emotional distress, annoyance, inconvenience, severe embarrassment, severe humiliation, chagrin, fear, and other similar general damages, as well as damages to reputation and character.
-The cost of attorney’s fees 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.
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.
The aforementioned information was gathered from circuit court documents. As of now, neither parties have otherwise publicly commented on the status of the pending litigation, and no hearing date has been set.