West Virginia Record

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Former union secretary alleges politically motivated firing

By Lawrence Smith | Aug 7, 2009

PARKERSBURG - An Ohio woman is alleging she was let go from her job as office manager of a Wood County union local for refusing to practice politics both inside and outside the office.

Laborers' Local 1085 is named in a three-count civil rights suit in Wood Circuit Court by Debra Ann Pryor. In her complaint filed on July 29, Pryor alleges she was fired as the local's office manager for refusing to look the other way on alleged misappropriation of union funds committed by her boss, Rick Drain, who is named as a co-defendant in the suit, and participating in get-out-the-vote drives for then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

According to court records, Pryor, a resident of Washington County, Ohio, was hired as the local's office manager in January 2005. Representing construction, and public service workers, Local 1085 has its office on Dudley Avenue in Parkersburg, and is part of the Laborers International Union of North America.

Local 1085, along with other trade and craft unions, is part of the West Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO's building and construction trades department.

Records show, Drain, who also lives in Washington County, was elected at the local's business agent in June 2007. Among other things, he served as Pryor's supervisor.

In her suit, Pryor alleges that on multiple occasions from the time Drain was elected, she "raised with Drain the fact that she was paid less then the regular Union scale rate to which she should have been entitled as an employee of the Local." Drain informed her that since " 'no secretary has ever been paid full scale,'" she was being paid the minimum hourly union scale rate.

On Jan. 15, Drain informed Pryor that even at the minimum hourly rate she was making too much money. Because the union was "broke," she was being "laid-off" as a "cost cutting measure."

However, Pryor maintains that the stated reason for her dismissal was "false and a pretext."

Pryor's suit alleges that the reason for the union being in financial dire straits is in part due to Drain misappropriating funds since becoming business agent. Without specifying times and amounts, Pryor avers that she has "refused to cooperate in [Drain's] misappropriation of Local Union funds for personal use" even when he has "angrily demanded" she "misreport and cover up his misuse" of funds.

Also, Pryor maintains Drain became angry when she would not support union efforts to win support for Obama in West Virginia during the 2008 general election. She not only refused to assist in placing Obama yard signs around Wood County, but also make contributions to the Obama/Biden campaign fund.

Though her reasons for refusing to cooperate aren't exactly clear, religion seems to be a factor. Aware that Pryor has professed to being a Christian, and that her husband is a former minister in Marietta, Drain told Pryor " 'I hope all of you Christians go to hell'" and " 'I hate all you damn Christians and I hope you all go to hell.'"

In refusing to pay her at the full union scale, and discharging her because of religious beliefs, Pryor alleges Local 1085 has engaged in gender, and religious discrimination. The loss of her job has caused her mental, and emotional stress, and, as compensation, she is asking to be awarded unspecified damages along with lost wages, court costs and attorney fees.

She is also asking that she be reinstated as office manager.

Pryor is represented by Walt Auvil with the Parkersburg law firm of Rusen and Auvil.

The case is assigned to Judge Robert A. Waters.

Wood Circuit Court case number 09-C-381

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