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Discrimination suit filed against W.Va. county commission

November 30, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - An attorney for a Berkeley Springs, W.Va., woman has filed a civil lawsuit against the Berkeley County Commission, claiming the woman was "constructively discharged" by County Assessor Preston Gooden after taking leave from work to care for her ailing 2-year-old son.

Berkeley County Circuit Clerk Virginia Sine's office received the complaint Nov. 9 from attorney Gregory A. Bailey, who filed it on behalf of Dorothy Martin, a 29-year-old mother of four children and transfer clerk under Gooden until she was discharged July 5, 2006.

Martin's suit claims that she was a victim of discrimination and retaliation for exercising her rights under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. She is asking the court for a jury trial and that she be awarded unspecified economic, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney fees.

Commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley said he anticipated being officially notified of the lawsuit, but he had no immediate comment.

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"I'll be glad to talk to you after I see it," Bentley said Wednesday.

According to Bailey's complaint, Gooden "angrily screamed" at Martin in front of co-workers when she attempted to tell him that her leave from work was covered by federal law and that Berkeley County Human Resources director Alan Davis told her as much.

"(Expletive) Alan Davis, I don't have to follow any laws, I'm an elected official, you no longer work here, so get out," Gooden said, according to Bailey's complaint.

Before that happened, Bailey said his client was told by her immediate supervisor that "work comes first, then family - so get your priorities straight."

Bailey said Martin told her immediate supervisor about her 2-year-old son's medical condition - herpangina - and related illnesses on June 22 and the need to care for him.

According to the National Institutes of Health Web site, herpangina is a viral illness characterized by ulcers and sores inside the mouth, sore throat and fever.

Upon her return to work several days later, Martin was moved to a work area in the back of the office, far away from her co-workers. Bailey said his client submitted her resignation because she could not endure the alleged retaliatory treatment of her bosses and was "constructively discharged" after being employed with the Assessor's Office since April 2004.

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