Minn. company wants more info from former employee

By Kelly Holleran | Aug 27, 2009

BECKLEY – A Minnesota company is asking its former employee to supply it with more information after he filed a suit against the company for its alleged violation of a public policy when it laid him off.

West Publishing Corporation, doing business as Thomson West, says plaintiff Stephen Walker should be required to provide more information in the lawsuit he filed May 8 in Raleigh Circuit Court.

Walker filed the suit after he says his employment with Thomson West, where he had worked since Sept. 14, 1999, was "willfully, maliciously and unlawfully terminated" on Dec. 31.

"Defendant's actions constituted an unlawful discharge as defendant was motivated by the contravention of a substantial public policy of the State of West Virginia as articulated in the decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in Harless v. First National Bank in Fairmont," Walker's complaint states.

After his termination, Walker was not paid his wages within 72 hours of his discharge, a violation of West Virginia's Wage Payment and Collection Act, according to the complaint.

Because of his termination, Walker says he has suffered lost wages and benefits and experienced indignity, embarrassment, humiliation, annoyance and inconvenience. For these problems, Walker contends he should receive lost wages and benefits, back and front pay and punitive damages, in addition to pre-judgment interest, attorney's fees and costs and other relief the court deems just.

But Thomson West contends Walker needs to supply it with more information before the case proceeds any further.

"The requirements for both pleading and proving a public policy cause of action in West Virginia require more than just a general assertion that an action by an employer 'violated public policy,'" the company's motion for more definite statement states. "On the contrary, the asserted public policy 'has to be pre-existing and germinate from constitutional, statutory, or regulatory provisions or prior judicial decisions.'"

Thomson West says Walker was laid off because of a larger reduction in force, and says it is confused by Walker's second allegation that it failed to pay him wages.

"Plaintiff fails to inform Defendant of what wages and benefits he believed he should have received within 72 hours of his lay-off," the motion says. "Under the Act, Defendant is only required to pay Plaintiffs wages and benefits 'capable of calculation' at the time of his lay-off."

In its motion, Thomson West is requesting the court enter an Order requiring Walker to file a more definite statement. It is also asking to be relieved of its duty to answer the discovery within 45 days of filing.

Because a diversity of citizenship exists between the defendant and plaintiff and because Walker is seeking more than $75,000, the case has been removed to federal court.

Kevin A. Nelson and Ashley W. French of Huddleston Bolen in Charleston will be representing Thomson West.

Mark A. Atkinson and Paul L. Frampton Jr. of Atkinson and Polak in Charleston will be representing Walker.

U.S. District Court case number: 5:09-cv-723

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