CHARLESTON – Deborah May, former housekeeper for Massey Coal owner Don Blankenship, didn't quit her job voluntarily and deserves unemployment compensation, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled.
Four Justices agreed June 17 that Blankenship changed May's job substantially enough to justify her termination of employment as his fault.
They observed that May submitted "rather colorful evidence" of Blankenship's "strident behavior," and in a concurring opinion two of them chose far stronger words.
"Such conduct by an employer is reminiscent of slavery and is an affront to common decency," Justice Joseph Albright wrote in an opinion Justice Larry Starcher joined.
Albright wrote that May's termination should be treated as a firing and declared that her eligibility for unemployment benefits was unquestionable.
Chief Justice Spike Maynard did not participate in the decision.
A Blankenship business, Mate Creek Security, hired May in 2001 as personal maid in a three story home that Rawl Sales owned, in Sprigg. Blankenship owned the home.
At first she worked eight hour days, but in 2002 Blankenship asked her to clean two cabins at a business complex in Kentucky.
In 2003, she asked for a raise from $8.86 an hour. She didn't get a raise.
In 2004, Blankenship bought a coach bus and asked May to clean it every week and keep it stocked with snacks and beverages.
In 2005, Blankenship added another home for her to clean.
She kept asking for a raise but didn't get one.
One week, she worked 33 hours of overtime.
When he told her he would bring a German shepherd police dog into the house and she would care for it, she quit.
She applied for unemployment compensation. The Department of Employment Security denied the application, finding she quit voluntarily.
She appealed to the department's board of review, which affirmed the decision and held that she quit only because she didn't get a raise.
She appealed to Kanawha Circuit Court and lost again. Last year, Circuit Judge James Stucky affirmed the decision of the board of review.
On a final appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeals found that the board of review was wrong to focus solely on May's request for a pay raise.
The Justices quoted a 1985 opinion that substantial unilateral changes in the terms of employment justify employee termination of employment.
They wrote that May "did indeed encounter various substantial unilateral quantitative changes in the terms of her employment."
"The appellant became required to routinely work overtime hours, putting the needs of her employer before the needs of her own family," they wrote, instructing the commissioner of the Department of Employment Security to enter an order awarding May the benefits to which she is entitled.
Kathryn Reed Bayless of Princeton represented May.
Charles Woody, Eric Kinder and Jeffrey Foster, of Spilman Thomas and Battle in Charleston, represented Mate Creek Security.