West Virginia Record

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Woman says water company got her fired from her job

By Chris Dickerson | Jul 8, 2014

CHARLESTON – A Kanawha County woman claims West Virginia-American Water Company conspired to have her fired from her insurance job.

Nicole Clevinger filed her lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court against American Water Works Service Company Inc., American Water Works Company Inc., WVAWC, The Travelers Indemnity Company, The Travelers Insurance Company and Regina Laughery.

In her complaint, Clevinger says she received a high water bill from WVAWC in September 2013. She contacted WVAWC and asked the company to check for a water leak. She says there was a leak about three feet from the water meter, but that the WVAWC representative left without looking for the leak.

Clevinger says she received high water and sewer bills in October and November as well, and she called to ask WVAWC to adjust her bills because she has an elderly woman with stage four cancer living with her. The WVAWC representative told Clevinger to only pay her regular monthly amount.

She claims she did that, and followed up about making an adjustment on the bills. She was told the process could take up to 90 days, but she claims she wasn’t told her account would only be on hold for 30 days.

She says WVAWC charged her $15 late fees each month on both her water and sewer bills.

Then, during January’s water crisis, Clevinger says she received a final notice from WVAWC saying her water would be shut off the next day. That is when she learned that her account would be on hold for only 30 days. So, she paid her bills to avoid shutoff.

After her dealings with WVAWC, Clevinger says she filed a complaint with the West Virginia Public Service Commission. About two weeks after that filing, Clevinger says her family told her their water had been shut off. She says she assumed WVAWC had done this intentionally.

A few days later, she learned a frozen pipe was the actual cause of her family’s water problems, so she again called the PSC and WVAWC to inform them that the water had not been shut off intentionally.

Clevinger claims that because of her interactions with WVAWC, the company filed a complaint against her with the PSC and complained to Travelers, her employer, about her.

Clevinger says she was unlawfully terminated Feb. 5.

She claims unlawful retaliatory discharge, noting a similar 1978 decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. She claims WVAWC is guilty of tortious interference with her relationship with Travelers.

Clevinger says she has suffered and will suffer lost wages and benefits.

She also claims she has suffered indignity, embarrassment, humiliation, annoyance, inconvenience and other damages. She seeks lost wages, benefits, front pay, back pay, pre-judgment interest and other relief, including attorney fees and court costs. She also seeks punitive damages.

WVAWC, of course, has been the subject of lawsuits recently related to the January chemical leak that affected the water supply of more than 300,000 residents.

On Jan. 9, an estimated 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM leaked from Freedom Industries’ Etowah River Terminal along the Elk River. Customers in parts of nine counties who use West Virginia-American Water Company were without tap water for days, and many still are wary of using the water. WVAWC’s intake facility along the Elk River is just more than a mile downstream from the leak site.

The week after the leak, Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy, effectively halting lawsuits filed against the company. As a result, many plaintiffs have since removed Freedom as a defendant in the lawsuits.

Court documents show there have been at nearly 70 lawsuits filed over the leak. Of those, about 40 seek class-action status. And all of the complaints have claims similar claims such as bodily injury, emotional distress, annoyance, loss of enjoyment, nuisance, inconvenience, requests for medical monitoring, lost income and loss of business revenue.

Of the complaints filed in various state and federal courts, some list Freedom and WVAWC as defendants and others list just Freedom or just WVAWC. Some also list Eastman Chemical, which produces the crude MCHM. Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy Jan. 17.

And in four other recently filed lawsuits, WVAWC is accused of providing contaminated drinking water for years.

Clevinger is being represented by Mark A. Atkinson and John-Mark Atkinson of Atkinson & Polak PLLC and Robert V. Berthold Jr. and Matthew C. Berthold of Berthold Law Firm PLLC. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 14-C-871

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