More firefighter litigation could in the future for Morgantown

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Morgantown Fire Civil Service Commission is requesting Morgantown firefighters and city officials to try and mediate a dispute in differential pay.

During an emergency meeting of the commission Wednesday morning, the commission officially requested that the dispute between the City of Morgantown and their firefighters, be further discussed during a May meeting. With that motion, encouraging the legal representatives for both parties to try and mediate ahead of the meeting so that further legal litigation becomes unecessary.

“We’re going to continue this over to a formal hearing to allow a presentation of evidence on the issue on May 12 at nine a.m,” said Fire Civil Service Commission member Shane Mardis on the issue. “And again we’re requesting that everybody to try and mediate this and resolve it if possible,” he said.

The dispute, began with a lawsuit being filed by the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 313 against the City of Morgantown earlier this year. The lawsuit, stemmed over a cut of differential pay for city employees, pay that carries over if your work on afternoon or overnight shifts and would average about $2,000 per firefighter. According to the lawsuit, the city is being accused of making the decision on differential pay in response to a previous lawsuit over holiday pay, which was further emphasized by accusations made by city officials over Morgantown Fire Department improprietites.

“In the midst of all of this hot litigation, in the midst of all of that’s going on, that an H.R. trained, the city trained the firefighters how to do it (handle timesheets) and what’s the city’s public response, suggest impropreities by the firefighters,” said attorney Teresea Toriseva who represents the over forty firefighters involved in the lawsuit. “We all read the Mayor’s Facebook posts,” she said.

In response, the City of Morgantown has repeated it’s claims that they have done nothing wrong. During the meeting Ryan Simonton of Kay Casto and Chaney, who represents the City of Morgantown, continuted to assert the city’s claims that firefighters are not being targeted over the change in pay. In particular, the change in differential pay was a correction that was made across the board with all city employees.

“As Attorney Toriseva stated, the City has a duty to correct an issue that is not in compliance with it’s rules once it recognizes it,” said Simonton discussing the sudden change. “If that’s the case, if the employees were claiming that shift differential before for their regular shifts that started at 8 a.m. and they are not doing that now then that’s what has happened, but the rule has not changed,” he said.

With no agreement being reached during the emergency meeting, litigation is expected to continue between fifty-one Morgantown firefighters and the City of Morgantown. Between this dispute and the orginal dispute between city officials and firefighters over pay, could lead to over $1.8 million being litigated over the course of 2021 and beyond. Keeping in mind the previous lawsuit, as well as others involving the City of Morgantown and other local entities, the Fire Civil Service Commission, while acknowledging the concerns of firefighters, encouraged some agreement to be met before further litigation in necessary.

“Suggesting that might be an outcome that we try to resolve this without ex-spending $100,000 that just got moved into the litigation department budget,” Madris said.