Summary judgement in favor of Morgantown handed down in firefighter backpay case

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Gauijot has granted a summary judgement in favor of the city of Morgantown in the more than two year battle with firefighter over holiday backpay.

In June of 2019, attorneys with Triseva Law filed suit on behalf of 57 members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 313 saying, the city violated state code for decades when they compensated firefighters for only 12 hours of time off for each holiday shift when they actually work 24 hour shifts. State law requires firefighters to be paid time-and-a-half, or be given equivalent time if the holiday falls on a work shift.

The judge told attorney for the firefighters, James Miller with Toriseva Law that he was not held by opinions referenced by plaintiffs in favor of firefighters from Judge David Sims in Brooke County or Judge Laura Faircloth in Berkley County.

Judge Gaujot cited a 1977 legal opinion by then Attorney General Chauncy Browning and the 1986 Supreme Court ruling in the Pullano v, City of Bluefield case in ruling the city can correct decades of improper holiday pay for the 57 firefighters through time off, rather than backpay.

The judge also disagreed with an assertion by plaintiffs the backpay would fall under the provisions of the West Virginia Payment and Collection Act.

Gaujot cited a lack of diligence and delay by firefighters in the decades the improper pay procedure was allowed to continue and reduced the backpay period from 5 years to 2 years. The two years of backpay will be calculated from the plaintiff’s court filing date of June 7, 2019.

Judge Gaujot has ordered both sides to agree on a special commissioner that would determine the amount of time off that will be given to firefighters.

Attorney Teresa Toriseva said a appeal is planned.