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W.Va. high court to hear Feliciano case

May 09, 2001

W.Va. high court to hear Feliciano case



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


When Antonio Feliciano wrestled with a would-be armed robber at a 7-Eleven store in Baker Heights, W.Va., on W.Va. 9 last summer, company officials said he violated company police and fired him.

The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals will now decide whether his claim that he was acting in self-defense can be used as a shield against his firing. Feliciano was an "at-will" employee - meaning the company could fire him for virtually any reason, said his attorney Paul Taylor.

"The Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether self-defense is an exception to the at-will employment rule," Taylor said. The court agreed to consider the case posed to it by U.S. District Court Judge Craig Broadwater, who is handling the case in Martinsburg.

Feliciano wrestled with Glenda Renee Hull July 14, 2000, and thwarted her attempt to rob the store, according to court documents. Hull pleaded guilty earlier this year to a charge of carrying a firearm during a crime of violence.

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Feliciano was fired because of a company policy designed to discourage acts of heroism that the company believes could lead to people getting hurt, officials have said. Taylor said his client feared for his life. The case has drawn national attention.

"It's a defense to a criminal charge," Taylor said of the self-defense argument. "This would expand it to employment law." He said the company can have any policy it wants, "but just because it is a policy doesn't make it legal."

Martinsburg attorney Chaz Printz Jr., representing 7-Eleven, noted the court agreed to hear the case on a 3-2 vote.

"It really doesn't indicate overwhelming support for the plaintiff's position," he said.

He said self-defense is a "mitigating defense" in a criminal case.

Taylor "wants to make it a matter of public policy," Printz said. "It's not public policy in a criminal case. What he would do is enlarge the protected class beyond gender, race, religion or minority status to say the right of self-defense is a protected right and he can't be fired for it."

A court ruling in favor of Feliciano also would create difficult employment issues, Printz said.

"How do you discipline or regulate employees if every time they get into a fight they claim the right of self-defense?," he said.

Taylor said the case probably won't be heard until early fall.

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