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Metz v. Eastern Associated Coal, LLC

Supreme Court of West Virginia

April 6, 2017

HENRY METZ, Plaintiff below, Respondent
v.
EASTERN ASSOCIATED COAL, LLC, Defendant below, Petitioner

          Submitted: March 7, 2017

         Certified Questions from the Circuit Court of Monongalia County CERTIFIED QUESTIONS ANSWERED

          C. David Morrison, Esq. Michael J. Moore, Esq. Steptoe & Johnson PLLC Bridgeport, West Virginia Counsel for Petitioner

          Brian J. Moore, Esq, Katherine B. Capito, Esq. Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP Charleston, West Virginia and John M. Canfield, Esq. Vice President and Counsel Amicus Curiae -West Virginia Chamber of Commerce

          Ronald G. Kramer, Esq. McNeer, Highland, McMunn and Varner, L.C. Clarksburg, West Virginia Counsel for Respondent

          Lonnie C. Simmons, Esq. DiTrapano, Barrett, DiPiero, McGinley & Simmons, PLLC Charleston, West Virginia Amicus Curiae -West Virginia Employment Lawyers Association and West Virginia Association for Justice

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. "In circuit court cases alleging a discriminatory discharge from employment, which a complainant might bring in the West Virginia Human Rights Commission under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W.Va. Code, 5-11-1 et seq., the statute of limitations period for filing a complaint with the circuit court ordinarily begins to run on the date when the employer unequivocally notifies the employee of the termination decision." Syl. Pt. 1, McCourt v. Oneida Coal Co., 188 W.Va. 647, 425 S.E.2d 602 (1992).

         2. The statute of limitations for employment discrimination cases brought to enforce rights under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W.Va. Code §§ 5-11-1 to -20 (2013), including allegations of discriminatory failure to hire, begins to run from the date a plaintiff first learns of the adverse employment decision.

         3. The statute of limitations for employment discrimination cases brought to enforce rights under the West Virginia Human Rights Act, W.Va. Code §§ 5-11-1 to -20 (2013), including allegations of discriminatory failure to hire, is not tolled by the discovery rule until the plaintiff learns of the alleged discriminatory motive underlying the employment decision.

          LOUGHRY, Chief Justice:

         This case is before us on two certified questions from the Circuit Court of Monongalia County and presents related issues concerning when the statute of limitations begins to run with regard to an adverse employment decision in a failure to hire scenario. The circuit court asks us to determine whether the limitations period starts at the point when an individual first learns that he or she was an unsuccessful job applicant and, secondarily, whether the discovery rule tolls the statute of limitations until the individual learns of the alleged discriminatory motive underlying the adverse employment decision. Upon our full consideration of these issues in conjunction with both statutory and case law, we answer the first certified question in the affirmative and the second question in the negative.[1]

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Henry Metz, the plaintiff below and respondent herein, was an active member of the United Mine Workers of America. As a union member, he was required to designate jobs for which he sought consideration when an opening arose. In July 2012, he bid on the position "mechanic trainee" at Federal No. 2 mine owned by Eastern Associated Coal ("EAC"), the defendant below and petitioner herein. While Mr. Metz learned of EAC's decision not to hire him on July 23, 2012, he did not learn until January 15, 2014, that the basis for the employment decision may have been his age.[2]

         On March 19, 2014, Mr. Metz filed a charge with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"), alleging that EAC had violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA").[3] After the requisite sixty-day period had passed for instituting an action to enforce the provisions of the ADEA, [4] Mr. Metz instituted a civil action in the Circuit Court of Monongalia County, [5] wherein he asserted that EAC had committed age discrimination in violation of the ADEA and the West Virginia Human Rights Act ("HRA").[6] On December 21, 2015, EAC successfully removed the action to federal court based on federal question jurisdiction. To defeat federal jurisdiction, Mr. Metz amended his complaint to remove the ADEA claim. Thereafter, the federal court remanded this employment discrimination case to state court.[7]

         On March 7, 2016, EAC filed an Amended Motion to Dismiss seeking dismissal of the respondent's civil action under Rule 12(b)(6) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to institute the suit within two years of the alleged discriminatory act underlying Mr. Metz' amended complaint. During the hearing on EAC's motion to dismiss, EAC orally moved to certify the issue of whether the limitations period is tolled under the HRA until a plaintiff learns of the prospective employer's alleged discriminatory animus. As a result, the circuit court certified the following two questions to this Court by order dated May 23, 2016:

Question 1: For discriminatory hiring causes of action filed pursuant to the West Virginia Human Rights Act, codified at West Virginia Code § 5-11-1, et seq., does the statute of limitations begin to run from the date that the plaintiff learns of the adverse employment decision?
Question 2: For discriminatory hiring causes of action filed pursuant to the West Virginia Human Rights Act, codified at West Virginia Code § 5-11-1, et seq., does the discovery rule toll the statute of limitations until the plaintiff discovers the alleged discriminatory motive underlying the employment decision?

         The circuit court answered each of the questions in the affirmative.

         II. Standard of Review

         Our review of issues certified to this Court from circuit courts is plenary. See Syl. Pt. 1, Gallapoo v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 197 W.Va. 172, 475 S.E.2d 172 (1996) ("The appellate standard of review of questions of law answered and certified by a circuit court is de novo."). We proceed to consider the questions presented by the circuit court.

         III. ...


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