Sistersville and officials facing litigation

MIDDLEBOURNE – Two former city of Sistersville employees who were among the five who resigned in August 2012 are taking legal action against the city 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 the documents, Mace and Soliday claim 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 as city clerk and treasurer so the defendants could give her job to then-councilwoman, defendant, Julie Schleier.”

Furthermore, the complaint recognizes the possibility 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, following their resignations, the defendants made defamatory statements accusing the plaintiffs of embezzling public funds from the city by using it to pay for Soliday’s health insurance premiums.

Soliday’s complaint states Fox accused her of using her position in city government to steal water and sewage from the city by manipulating the bill for her home in July 2012 to reflect the minimum monthly charge rather than her actual usage.

It further states 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 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 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, 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.