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Walker v. The West Virginia House of Delegates

Supreme Court of West Virginia

June 16, 2017

Jeffry Walker, Plaintiff Below, Petitioner
v.
The West Virginia House of Delegates, Defendant Below, Respondent

         Kanawha County 14-C-770

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Jeffry Walker ("Mr. Walker"), by counsel Karen H. Miller, Joseph L. Amos, Jr., and Adam K. Strider, appeals the order of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, entered on July 18, 2016, that granted the motion of Respondent West Virginia House of Delegates ("the House of Delegates") for summary judgment and denied petitioner's motion for partial summary judgment. The House of Delegates appears by counsel Gary E. Pullin and Christopher C. Ross.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the order of the circuit court is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         Mr. Walker filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County in 2014, asserting that his at-will employment as a custodian was illegally terminated after he suffered a work-related injury and reported unacceptable working conditions and harassment related to his workers' compensation claim. That same year, Mr. Walker filed an amended complaint, which included a deliberate intent claim on the basis that the ladder from which he fell (resulting in his compensable injury) was defective. Then, in early 2015, Mr. Walker filed a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint, in which he would assert a second deliberate intent claim on the basis that he was improperly trained and supervised on the safe use of ladders. The circuit court denied Mr. Walker's motion by order entered on June 16, 2015.

         After discovery, the House of Delegates filed a motion for summary judgment, and Mr. Walker filed a motion for partial summary judgment on his claim for wrongful discharge based on disability. The court entered an order finding that its June 16, 2015, order "appl[ied] equally to [Mr. Walker's] original [d]eliberate [i]ntent claim" in the amended complaint, and granted summary judgment on that ground. Thereafter, on July 18, 2016, the court entered its order denying Mr. Walker's motion for partial summary judgment and granting the House of Delegates' motion on the remainder of Mr. Walker's claims on the grounds that Mr. Walker was not a disabled person within the meaning of the West Virginia Human Rights Act and that Mr. Walker failed to present evidence that he was disparately treated based on his receipt of workers' compensation benefits.

         Mr. Walker appeals the grant of summary judgment, asserting that the circuit court erred in (1) finding that he was not a member of a protected class at the time his employment was terminated, (2) finding that his filing of a workers' compensation claim was not a significant, motivating factor in the decision to terminate his employment, and (3) denying his motion to file a second amended complaint.

         We begin with Mr. Walker's first and second assignments of error, which we review de novo (see syl. pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 190, 451 S.E.2d 755, 756 (1994)), inasmuch as both concern the grant of summary judgment. First, we address Mr. Walker's employment discrimination claim. To make a prima facie case of discrimination, Mr. Walker must show that (1) he is a member of a protected class; (2) his employer made an adverse employment decision concerning him; and (3) but for his protected status, the adverse decision would not have been made. See Syl. Pt. 3, Conaway v. Eastern Associated Coal Corp., 178 W.Va. 164, 166, 358 S.E.2d 423, 425 (1986). As the circuit court explained, not only did Mr. Walker fail to show that he has a disability (having been released by his physician to full-duty work without restrictions), but he also failed to produce evidence demonstrating that he was perceived by his employer as having a disability. Mr. Walker therefore has failed to show that he is a member of a protected class, and has failed to make a prima facie claim of discrimination in violation of the West Virginia Human Rights Act.[1]

         Second,

[i]n order to make a prima facie case of discrimination under W.Va. Code, 23-5A-1, the employee must prove that: (1) an on-the-job injury was sustained; (2) proceedings were instituted under the Workers' Compensation Act, W.Va. Code, 23-1-1, et seq.; and (3) the filing of a workers' compensation claim was a significant factor in the employer's decision to discharge or otherwise discriminate against the employee.

Syl. Pt. 1, Powell v. Wyoming Cablevision, Inc., 184 W.Va. 700, 701, 403 S.E.2d 717, 718 (1991). Mr. Walker fails the third requisite; as the circuit court aptly noted, he "failed to adduce sufficient evidence from which a rational finder of fact may infer that the filing [of] a claim under the West Virginia Workers['] Compensation Act was a significant factor in" the decision to terminate his employment. Mr. Walker, therefore, did not make a prima facie case of retaliation prohibited by West Virginia Code § 23-5A-1.[2]

         We turn to Mr. Walker's third and final assignment of error, wherein he argues that the circuit court erred in denying his motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. This we review pursuant to the following standard:

"A trial court is vested with a sound discretion in granting or refusing leave to amend pleadings in civil actions. Leave to amend should freely be given when justice so requires, but the action of a trial court in refusing to grant leave to amend a pleading will not be regarded as reversible error in the absence of a showing of an abuse of the trial court's discretion in ruling upon a motion for leave to amend." Syllabus Point 6, Perdue v. S.J. Groves and Sons Co., 152 W.Va. 222, 161 S.E.2d 250 (1968).

Syl. Pt. 2, Crum v. Equity Inns, Inc., 224 W.Va. 246, 248, 685 S.E.2d 219, 221 (2009). Under the facts presented by this case, we find no abuse of discretion on the part of ...


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