Today we filed suit against Enlivant, a Chicago company who owns and operates an assisted living facility in Greenbrier County, West Virginia operating as Seasons Place Assisted Living. On June 1, 2021 they terminated my client, Stephanie McCutcheon, for refusing to take an unapproved non-mandatory vaccine for COVID-19.
This is the letter Stephanie received from the Human Resources Director in Chicago after complaining about the company’s verbal vaccine mandate. As you can see, knowing it was a violation of federal law to mandate the vaccine, they attempted to frame her termination as a resignation.
Given that it appears to be a form letter, they have apparently done this to other employees. They have assisted living facilities in numerous states.
Our legal theory is a state-law based claim of retaliatory discharge. Basically, as everyone knows, West Virginia is an at-will employment state. However, there was an exception created in Harless v. First National Bank, 162 W.Va. 116, 246 S.E.2d 270 (1978), which provides that:
The rule that an employer has an absolute right to discharge an at will employee must be tempered by the principle that where the employer’s motivation for the discharge is to contravene some substantial public policy principle, then the employer may be liable to the employee for damages occasioned by this discharge.
The State Supreme Court has defined the areas from which “public policy” may derive:
“The sources determinative of public policy are, among others, our federal and state constitutions, our public statutes, our judicial decisions, the applicable principles of the common law, the acknowledged prevailing concepts of the federal and state governments relating to and affecting the safety, health, morals and general welfare of the people for whom government—with us—is factually established.”
See Frohnapfel v. ArcelorMittal USA LLC, 235 W.Va. 165, 772 S.E.2d 350 (W. Va. 2015)
So federal laws and regulations may form the basis of “public policy.” Now whether that public policy is “substantial” depends on whether it’s “widely regarded as to be evident to employers.” No doubt that requirement is met in this case. A quick google search will reveal an enormous amount of discussion and advice regarding the legality of employers mandating the vaccine. But we shall see….
Here’s the lawsuit, in full, which lays out the facts and law pertaining to the COVID-19 vaccines at the current time:
We are asking for an expedited hearing for a preliminary injunction enjoining Enlivant from terminating employees for choosing not to take a non-mandatory, unapproved vaccine, and directing that my client be re-hired, as well as a declaration that a private employer may not terminate or take adverse action against employees for choosing not to take the COVID vaccine. We are also seeking money damages, punitive damages and attorney fees.
Today the West Virginia Supreme Court issued their opinion from the lawsuit we filed against the Governor on behalf of the Wayne County Republican Party. We already knew they ruled against us. But now we know the reasoning. If you recall, there were two competing letters: one from the Wayne County Chair, and one from the State Republican Party. In the end, the Court essentially threw both of them out, and held that the Governor gets to choose his own replacement after 15 days. This was probably something the legislature should have addressed already, as the opinion points out.
This is absolutely outrageous. Apparently, there’s a secret society style organization of Family Court judges in West Virginia, who held a meeting and signed a resolution asking the West Virginia Supreme Court to fire the judicial disciplinary counsel prosecutors, who are currently engaged in the disciplinary prosecution of Judge Goldston in what has been termed the “Family Court Judge Search Case.” This was then leaked to the media by the judges, none of whom would agree to go on the record, but rather opted to work from the shadows.
Today we filed suit in the case of the “Outlaw Barber,” Winerd “Les” Jenkins, a 73 year old combat veteran and former 27-year Deputy U.S. Marshall, who was arrested for refusing to close his barbershop during the Governor’s lockdown in April of 2020. We filed a Section 1983 civil rights lawsuit in federal court, in the Northern District of West Virginia.
When Winerd “Les” Jenkins first became a barber, Neil Armstrong hadn’t yet set foot on the moon. For over five decades, Jenkins has made a living with his scissors and razor. For the past decade, he’s worked his craft from a storefront in Inwood, West Virginia. At Les’ Place Traditional Barber Shop, you can get a regular men’s haircut for $16 and a shave for $14—but come prepared to pay the old-fashioned way: in cash.
His insistence on “cash only” isn’t the only thing that’s old-school about Jenkins. He lives with his wife of 52 years on a small farm, where the couple raises rescued animals. He believes in paying his bills on time. He doesn’t use the internet, email, or text messaging. And he’s skeptical that his profession can become illegal overnight merely on the governor’s say-so.
He was ultimately arrested by two deputies from the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office, who transported Mr. Jenkins for incarceration and charged him with “obstructing” an officer. The prosecuting attorney’s office of that county then aggressively prosecuted Mr. Jenkins for the better part of a year, until the judge finally dismissed the charge in January of 2021, finding that it would be a violation of Mr. Jenkins’s constitutional rights to prosecute him for violating the governor’s executive order.
We asserted two separate violations of Mr. Jenkins’ Fourth Amendment rights (unreasonable search and seizure and false arrest), as well as a violation of Mr. Jenkins’ First Amendment rights. It’s already been assigned a case number. Read it for yourself:
Just today the WV Governor signed a bill making WV a Second Amendment sanctuary of sorts from the federal government. There’s a lot of things going on in the world of federal gun control efforts at the moment. The GOA – Gun Owners of America is neck deep in fighting back against it. With me tonight is Luis Valdes, the Florida Director of the GOA, a well known Second Amendment advocate to discuss what’s going on.
We know it’s coming. It’s time to flex West Virginia’s state sovereignty, and it begins with our Legislature. Take a look at the West Virginia Citizen’s Defense League’s flagship proposed legislation for the 2021 legislative session, and make sure that your representatives know that they’re expected to enact it into law. This is about more than just the “sanctuary” b.s. This bill asserts the state’s prerogative to enforce its own laws, and no one else’s. They’re already shutting down your oil and gas jobs, as well as forcing transgender athletes into women’s sports in West Virginia. You know what’s next. Let’s be proactive.
The WVCDL is your best source of solid, objective, educational information, and bill tracking when it comes to firearms and 2A (WV 3-22) related legislation. We’ll keep you posted on the good, the bad, and the neutral. Some bills sound great but in reality, don’t accomplish tangible benefits for the law abiding gun owners of WV. Some bills have unintended consequences and as subject matter experts, we do our best to help bring those concerns to the attention of legislators.All of this takes the entire membership. Absolutely no one in the WVCDL is paid to any of the work we do. We are 100% volunteer and we absolutely need YOU to help for the most successful session possible. Do not make the mistake of thinking someone else will pick up your slack. WE NEED YOU. We are a grassroots organization and it is YOU when you all come together to advocate with your legislators for change…..
I realized that I never posted about oral arguments in the Wayne County case, nor the Supreme Court decision which was handed down while we were driving home. On Tuesday, oral arguments were held, for around an hour, which seemed to me to go very well. I honestly was surprised to find out that they had ruled against us. Here’s the debrief video I made that evening, which includes an excerpt of my rebuttal arguments during the oral arguments hearing:
If I had to guess, I would speculate that they found a procedural means to rule against us, such as standing, or perhaps the existence of the so-called “second signature,” where my client unknowingly signed the letter presented to the Governor by the State GOP. At least I hope so, because otherwise the Court will have modified legislation from the bench – because the law was very clearly on our side.
Here are some of the media reports from the day:
For about an hour earlier this afternoon, lawyers for Governor Justice and the West Virginia Republican Party presented arguments against a lawyer for the chairman of the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee.
A few weeks ago, the governor picked Booth, whose family runs a highway safety contracting business, to fill the vacancy. But Booth’s name had not appeared on a list originally submitted by Wayne County political leaders.
The argument before justices focused on who has the authority to submit names to fill such vacancies and the proper procedure for doing so.
“This is one political party committee that is elected by Wayne County voters engaged in a power grab or attempted control by the state executive committee that has no direct connection to the local Wayne County voters,” said John Bryan, counsel for the Wayne County GOP chairman.
“That is the whole point: that they ended up with somebody they voted for or necessarily even knew but they ended up with somebody that, according to the records, donated to Governor Justice when he ran for office in 2016 as a Democrat.”
He was referring to records showing Booth as a $1,000 maximum-amount donor to Justice’s first run, when he won as a Democrat before changing parties after a few months.
I was obviously freshly perturbed when I gave this interview:
Attorney John Bryan, who is representing Maynard, was disappointed by the ruling.
“The governor has been able to get around the law whenever he pleases for the past year now,” Bryan told The West Virginia Record. “When the full opinion is issued, I suppose we’ll find out how he did it this time. … State laws throughout the country were not followed in the 2020 election, and not a court in the land seems to care.”
This morning we submitted a Reply to the WV Supreme Court to the brief submitted by the State GOP in the lawsuit we filed against the Governor in the District 19 legislative vacancy dispute. Here is the filing, which hopefully clears up the confusion and uncertainty between the legal structure and authorities of state political party committees and local political party committees. As discussed in the last post on the topic, everyone from the top down seems to be confused. Hopefully this clears things up.
It should be noted that there are 100 legislative districts in the WV House of Delegates, each representing about 18,000 voters. 43 out of the 100 districts are contained wholly within a single county, and therefore vacancy nominations for those 43 single-county districts go to the county political executive committee. The state committee has no authority under the law to inject a veto or control the process. If the State GOP is allowed to do so, that would equal roughly 774,000 voters who lose their representation in vacancy nomination decisions. Note: the Democrat Party has not attempted to inject their state committee into the local legislative vacancy process.
Here’s my handy diagram on how all political party committees are structured under West Virginia law. Note that all committees have the right to elect their own officers, make their own internal rules, and contain a body of voting members elected by voters. They are limited, however, in that they cannot create internal rules that are inconsistent with state law.
Therefore, while the State GOP claims to be able to control the legislative vacancy process through making new bylaws, their argument is flawed because doing so is entirely inconsistent with State Code, which gives the local committees exclusive authority to nominate seat vacancies. You can’t get around that by changing the internal rules in the bylaws. That seems obvious, but apparently they did it anyways…..
The Supplemental Appendix (Exhibits) referenced in the Reply:
Oral arguments are currently scheduled for Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. at the WV Supreme Court. It should be available live on the Court’s website. I go over many of these details in the live video from Wednesday night. Not the most exciting topic, but important:
Now there’s national attention on our supposed “fracture” in the West Virginia GOP caused by our Governor and the State Party interfering with local voters’ statutory right to choose the candidates for replacement of a legislative vacancy within their county:
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — On a beach vacation in South Carolina with his family, Jay Marcum was awaiting a call from the governor of West Virginia. He was a finalist for the vacant seat of a state legislator who resigned after being charged with illegally entering the U.S. Capitol in the Jan. 6 riot. Instead, state Republican leaders ordered a redo on candidate applications and insisted Marcum return home for an in-person interview.
“I don’t really understand why we can’t do a Zoom,” he told them. Nevertheless, the 51-year-old small-business owner packed up his disappointed children and left Myrtle Beach at 6 a.m. for the nine-hour trip home.
Ultimately, his journey was for naught: Republican Gov. Jim Justice ended up appointing neither Marcum nor either of the two other candidates who had been placed on a shortlist by GOP party leaders in Wayne County, where the delegate seat is located. Justice instead appointed a political neophyte, enraging Republicans in the rural county and unleashing accusations of subterfuge and backdoor politics in the Mountain State.
If you want to understand more about this, and even compare what the Republicans have done to their own constituents this past year by attempting to usurp the process with their bylaws, you very well might be outraged at what they’ve done. You’re probably not even aware of it though, because it’s been well hidden in the swamp water.
There’s a giant red herring in this case, disguising a massive power grab that is occurring right before our eyes.
The Governor, the Attorney General and the State GOP are either intentionally, or mistakenly, operating under the premise that a county party executive committee in West Virginia is somehow a subcommittee and subservient to the state party executive committee (or as the State GOP terms it, “subordinate”). What’s being lost in the mix – perhaps by design – is that a county party executive committee, or even a delegate or senatorial district committee, is a separate organization – a separate committee – from that of the state party. It is not a subcommittee of the state executive committee. Nor is it subservient to the state executive committee.
Don’t quite understand? Let’s get into the weeds….
The State Republican Executive Committee has its bylaws, which it can amend, revise, or modify. Likewise, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee has its own bylaws. The state committee cannot modify the county committee’s bylaws. Nor can the county committee modify the state committee’s bylaws. Perhaps I need to make a diagram. Let’s try this (not drawn to scale, LOL):
Now…. so if Delegate Sniffy McSniffer resigns his theoretical seat in the WV House of Delegates, and his seat district lies in 2 or more counties (so “multi-county”), the executive committee that would convene and perform the process of choosing 3 qualified candidates for presentment to the Governor for his appointment, would be Sniffy McSniffer’s district executive committee, organized and created under W. Va Code §3-1-9(b) (see above handy diagram), and comprised of elected local members from those districts (in two or more different counties). Since the legislative district is multi-county, it has its own executive committee elected (because it can’t logically or technically be done in just one county executive committee).
Then…. so if Delegate Rusty Shackleford resigns his theoretical seat in the WV House of Delegates shortly after Delegate McSniffer, there’s another legislative vacancy which needs to be filled pursuant to the process outlined by state code in W. Va. Code § 3-10-5. This is the same code section, but different executive committee. Why? Because Delegate Shackleford’s legislative district lies wholly within one county. Therefore, since it’s not a multi-county district, pursuant to W. Va Code §3-1-9(c) (see handy chart above) the elected committee members (still elected by party voters at their local precincts) are all already members of the county executive committee of that particular county.
There is no separate executive committee for those districts. They are technically just subcommittees of the county executive committee (assuming all of the county members don’t reside in the vacant legislative district). Thus, Del. Shackleford’s replacement is chosen by the county executive committee, at a meeting convened of its members who reside in the vacant district. They vote, and then that executive committee conveys the nominees to the Governor for his appointment of one of those qualified individuals.
The state code for legislative vacancy replacement is clear: it’s the elected local committee members who make the nominations, whether via their own multi-county executive committee, or via the county executive committee for single-county districts. Which brings us to the real problem here: the State GOP has engaged in an attempted power grab to give itself a veto and technical control over this vacancy replacement process. This is what the State GOP inserted into their bylaws (i.e., not the bylaws of county and district committees which are separate political committees under state law):
Section 4. Vacancy in the State Legislature: Wherever else public or Party law requires the filling of an elected office by a Party Committee, the State Senate Executive Committee or House of Delegate Executive Committee, whatever the case may be, shall fulfil their obligations in accordance with state law as provided in this rule….
(c) The State Party Chairman, or their designee, shall facilitate the process of conducting interviews and filling such office by whatever means necessary, which shall include but is not limited to, facilitating and conducting the interviews, calling special meetings of the District Vacancy Committee, and certifying the results of such committee meetings to the Governor. The State Chairman shall take care to see that each candidate nominated by the Republican Party for such office is constitutionally eligible.
(d) The State Chairman and State Party Staff shall, in consultation with the elected Chair of the District Vacancy Committee, prepare a list of questions that will be asked of candidates during their interview process. The State Chairman and State Party Staff shall ensure that there is adequate public notice of such vacancy and that there are at least Seventy-two (72) hours between the time that the notice is posted publicly and the time that the application period closes.
a. The nomination of such candidates for a vacancy shall occur in the following manner:
i. If there are three (3) candidates who have applied, the Vacancy Committee need not convene, unless called to do so by the State Chair, the District Vacancy Chair, or upon the application of forty percent (40%) of the members of the District Vacancy Committee. In such cases, should there be only three candidates, and the committee is not called, the State Chairman shall certify those three names to the Governor and shall provide a copy to the Secretary of State.
ii. If there are less than three (3) candidates, the Vacancy District Committee shall convene and endeavor to fill the remaining slots from a list of eligible registered Republicans who are constitutionally eligible to hold such office and are registered to vote in and reside in the District from which the vacancy arises.
iii. If there are more than three (3) candidates who apply for such office, interviews will be conducted in person at a location in the District, unless such district is within twenty-five (25) miles of the State Party Headquarters, at which point the interviews shall be conducted at State Party Headquarters. All interviews will be uniform and no candidate shall be asked different questions, questioned by individual committee members, or be given more or less time. Upon the conclusion of the interviews, the District Vacancy Committee shall deliberate and choose three candidates to submit to the Governor. The District Vacancy Committee shall vote by blank ballot and no name shall be placed on the list submitted to the Governor unless they receive a majority of votes cast. The members of the District Vacancy Committee shall vote for up to three candidates on the first round of balloting. If any candidate receives a majority of votes cast, that candidate shall be nominated and their name shall be removed from the next round of voting. In succeeding rounds of balloting, the committee members shall only be allowed to vote for the number of slots left to nominate. In each succeeding round of balloting, the candidate receiving the fewest votes shall be eliminated for the next round of balloting, unless there are multiple candidates who receive the fewest amounts of votes. This process shall continue indefinitely until a slate of three (3) candidates is nominated.
iv. Upon the conclusion of the committee interviews and action, the State Chairman, District Vacancy Committee Chairman (or Vice Chair in the absence of the Chair), and District Vacancy Committee Secretary shall certify, by letter on State Party letterhead, the list of three (3) names for such vacancy. This letter shall be filed by the State Party Staff within twenty-four (24) hours of the letter being signed by all three officers. All letters and certification papers shall be filed with the Governor of West Virginia and the West Virginia Secretary of State.
v.In any case where there is no Senate Vacancy Committee or Delegate Vacancy Committee due to the district being wholly within one county, the County Chair shall appoint a subcommittee which shall act as the vacancy committee and the process of such committee be facilitated by the County Chair and State Chair. In such case, the names of the three (3) nominated candidates shall be certified by the County Chair, County Secretary, and State Chair.
Note that last subsection….They’ve gone completely power mad. But this is where they’re saying that there’s a requirement that the State Chair must be involved and certify the process, etc. It’s in their own new insane bylaws – not state code, nor in county/district bylaws!
So, can the State GOP do that? They’ve effectively changed W. Va. Code § 3-10-5, which gives the local executive committees (whether county or multi-county local legislative district) the important authority of vetting and nominating their local candidates. W. Va. Code § 3-10-5 does not give the state executive committee that authority. Even the new aggressive State GOP bylaws recognize this authority:
ARTICLE XIII – Regulation of Subordinate Party Executive Committees
Section 1. Jurisdiction. In the interest of effective organization and party harmony, the State Executive Committee and its Chairman shall and will exercise jurisdiction, control and authority over the County, Senatorial, Delegate District, and Congressional Committees of the Republican Party in West Virginia in all matters having to do with: (i) the filling of vacancies when any such Committee is unable to do so, (ii) the election of any officer of the committee in the event of a tie vote, and (iii) of any other matter of the business of any such committee which in the opinion of the State Executive Committee or the State Chairman shall be of sufficient importance to the Republican party to require removal from local consideration and action by the State Executive Committee.
Note that the State GOP uses the word “subordinate” in their new bylaws. That word does not come from W. Va Code §3-1-9 (see chart above). However, it clearly expresses their attitude towards local elected committee members. But even in these outrageous bylaws, they are required to acknowledge that they can only possibly attempt to intervene “when any such Committee is unable to do so,” or some other situation of “sufficient importance” in the opinion of the State GOP. Again, this is authorized nowhere in the State Code, which created a state executive committee and other county and district executive committees separate and apart from each other – not “subordinate.”
Even assuming the questionable legality of these Myanmar style bylaws, there are still due process protections for the peasant local committee members (who mind you, are the only ones elected by the people of that district – unlike the state committee members from the 54 other counties):
Section 2. Temporary Exigent Jurisdiction. If, in the opinion of the Chairman of the State Executive Committee, time is of the essence in regard to the issue or issues in controversy, the Chairman may exercise discretion to resolve the issue or issues in controversy, on a temporary basis by taking such action as they may deem in the best interests of the Republican Party by filling any vacancy, naming any officer, or taking what other action may be provident and they shall notify in writing the members of any subordinate committee of their action within ten (10) days thereafter, which action shall become final and binding upon the County, Senatorial, Delegate District, or Congressional Committees of the Republican Party in West Virginia and their members, unless a notice of appeal in writing filed by no less that 50 percent of the members of any such committee is filed with the Secretary of the State Committee within ten (10) days after the date of mailing of the notice, as herein above provided for, by the said Chairman to the members of such committee. Such notice of appeal to the Secretary shall be sent by certified or registered mail. Any such action taken by the Chairman in accordance with the terms of this section shall be in full force and effect from the date of his action until any appeal therefrom is adjudicated in accordance with the provisions of section three hereof.
Section 3. When any such question or controversy arises in any such County, Senatorial, Delegate District, or Congressional Committee, which the Chairman deems not to require immediate action upon his part as provided for in section two, or if written notice of appeal has been properly filed, as herein before provided for, from any decision of the Chairman made according to the provisions of Article XII, Section 2 of these Bylaws, the Chairman of the State Executive Committee shall appoint a panel of four members who, with such Chairman, shall constitute a Board of Arbitration to hear evidence on the issue. After hearing all the evidence of any and all parties in interest, the Board shall by secret ballot decide the issue in writing and such decision shall be final and binding upon all parties concerned.
Just briefly going back to the questionable legality of this, since the 55 county executive committees, as well as the numerous legislative district executive committees, now have these new rules hoisted upon them, did they consent to this transfer of power? Pursuant to W. Va Code §3-1-9(g), each of these committees, like the state executive committee, has their own independent officers, organization and political divisions. Many, such as the county in dispute in this case, have their own bylaws. Now all of a sudden, the state gets to step in, and there’s an “arbitration board” just to make things really difficult?
County and local legislative district political committees are not subcommittees of the state executive committee, but rather separate political committees, independent and different than the state committee.
According to the state code which created all of these committees, pursuant to W. Va Code §3-1-11, no political committee – state included – can modify their bylaws in such a way as to be “inconsistent” with, or “in contravention” with (e.g. violation of) state code.
So now you understand the red herring here: whether on purpose or by misunderstanding, the Wayne County Republican Executive Committee was refused an appointment of their vetted and nominated list of three qualified candidates. This wasn’t just because the Governor and/or the State GOP didn’t like anyone on the list, but more importantly (and more mischievously) because as of the Summer of 2020, the State GOP has engaged in a power grab in the vacancy process, attempting to take authority from local elected committee members, who know their constituents and candidates, and placing that authority in state party political leaders from outside that constituency, and who are un-elected by that constituency.
Why doesn’t the state party just go ahead and substitute themselves in for individual voters in general – at least for the primaries. They know best, right? The voters don’t understand what’s best for the party. It’s about the big picture…. In case you’ve forgotten, by the way, the legal structure of party political committees applies to all political parties. Believe it or not, Democrat voters have not been disenfranchised in this way and strong-armed by their state executive committee. You can review the Democrat state executive committee bylaws here. They don’t contain any attempts by the state party to usurp the authority of the county or district members. In fact, this is all I could find, as far as interference:
4. Vacancies: If a County Executive Committee fails to meet its obligation to fill a vacancy on the committee within 60 days of the vacancy occurring the State Chair may appoint a replacement.
And mind you, that’s for vacancies on the county executive committees – not vacancies for the legislature. They don’t even have any provision whatsoever providing that the state committee can interfere, or even participate, with that process. After all, that would be “in contravention” of state law placing that authority at the county level, would it not?
I’m working hard on reacting to what has been submitted by the State GOP here – and mind you, so I’m told, even the Democrats agree with Wayne County here – so as a part of that process, I am presenting the affidavit of my client, detailing exactly what happened, and providing the troubling details omitted by the State GOP surrounding the execution of the second list of candidates sent to the Governor by the State GOP: