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West Virginia Supreme Court to decide case

March 06, 2001

West Virginia Supreme Court to decide case



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


The West Virginia Supreme Court has been asked to decide whether self-defense against attack in the workplace can be used as a reason to legally avoid being fired.

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U.S. District Court Judge Craig Broadwater asked for the state appellate court's ruling in the case of Antonio Feliciano, who was fired last July after he wrestled a would-be armed robber to the floor of the 7-Eleven store where he worked along W.Va. 9. He has filed a civil suit asking for $105,000 because he alleges he was wrongfully terminated.

Feliciano was fired by 7-Eleven for violating its policy that employees are not to subdue robbers or interfere with a robbery. Feliciano claimed he had filled the bag held by Glenda Renee Hull, of Hedgesville, W.Va., but still felt threatened.

As an "at will" employee, Feliciano normally could be fired for any reason, said his Martinsburg attorney Paul Taylor. But the law allows some "substantial public policy exceptions to that rule, such as race, color, creed or sex," he said. Self-defense is not one of those exceptions.

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"This would be different than those," Taylor said.

Broadwater refused to grant 7-Eleven's request to throw the case out of court, but only because the state Supreme Court had never ruled on self-defense as a "substantial public policy" exception, he said in his order.

"Unless the (Supreme Court) holds otherwise, the Court concludes that self-defense is not a substantial public policy in West Virginia and will dismiss Feliciano's complaint," Broadwater wrote.

"This is pretty much the whole case," Taylor said.

The court could refuse to hear the case, which would have the same effect as a negative ruling for Feliciano. If the court agrees to hear the case and agrees with Feliciano, the case will move forward. It is currently set for trial in November.

"This pretty much shoots his whole case," if the court rules against Feliciano, said 7-Eleven's Martinsburg attorney, Charles Printz Jr. "He (Broadwater) has pretty much made up his mind about Mr. Feliciano."

Other states have ruled on this same issue. None have come down on the side of the employee, Printz said.

"There's no case law in his favor," Printz said.

Taylor agreed previous rulings were not favorable for Feliciano, but said he remains optimistic the court will take the case and rule in his favor.

"It looks good for my client," he said.

Last week, Hull pleaded guilty to a charge of carrying a firearm during a crime of violence. She has not been sentenced.

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