Massey employment agreement unfair, lawsuits say

CHARLESTON - Two former employees of Massey Energy Co. have filed lawsuits against it, claiming an agreement they were required to sign when they were hired is unfair. Timmy Hicks and David Wright, both of Boone County, worked for Massey at one of its coal mines for only 12 days and are seeking a declaratory judgment against it that voids the Redhat Trainee Program Letter Agreement and Wage Deduction Agreement they signed when they became red hat apprentice miners. The suits were filed Aug. 29 in Kanawha Circuit Court through Charleston attorney Thomas P. Maroney. Massey recently made headlines when it sued the state Supreme Court because it does not think it can be treated fairly by Justice Larry Starcher on the cases Massey is involved in. The company also attempted to have Boone Circuit Judge Jay Hoke disqualified from another case because his impartiality might be questioned. Hicks' case was assigned to Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey Walker, and Wright's was assigned to Judge Paul Zakaib. Both men started work at the Black Knight Mining Co. on Jan. 16 and signed the two agreements. Twelve days later, they left the mine and found work with a competitor. The agreements stipulated that if the men quit before working there for three years, then they would have to pay Massey $7,500 and were not allowed to work at a rival mine within 90 miles within a year of leaving. The complaints say the Redhat and Wage Deduction agreements are "invalid, and the hiring of an attorney to enforce such invalid agreements was intentional, malicious, willful, wanton and gross misconduct, resulting in reckless and willful disregard of the rights of the plaintiff." Charleston attorney Scott Caudill wrote both men in an attempt to enforce the agreements without legal action. His letters state, "By entering into this contractual agreement with the company, you legally bound yourself to its requirements and consequences." Both miners say their credit ratings have been harmed by Massey's conduct, and that Massey wrongfully interfered with their new jobs. They seek punitive damages. Other defendants on the cases are: A.T. Massey Coal Co., a subsidiary of Massey Energy; Elk Run Coal Co., a subsidiary of A.T. Massey; and Spartan Mining Co. doing business as Black Knight Mining Co., a subsidiary of Elk Run. Kanawha Circuit Court case numbers 06-C-1754 and 06-C-1755

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