MARTINSBURG – Winchester Regional Health Systems maintains it fired a 59-year-old woman because of her poor work performance despite her allegations that she was terminated due to her age.

Ann M. Johnson filed a lawsuit April 29 in Morgan Circuit Court against Valley Health System, doing business as Winchester Regional Health Systems.

In her complaint, Johnson claims she has worked for Winchester Regional since 1995, when she was hired as a collections associate at its offices in Winchester. About one year later, Johnson was promoted to business office manager at War Memorial Hospital in Berkeley Springs.

Throughout her employment, Johnson says she performed her job duties, received consistent praise about her work and was given excellent evaluations.

Despite this, on Oct. 31, Winchester Regional suspended Johnson without pay in order to investigate allegations of poor performance, according to the complaint.

"Prior to the Plaintiff's suspension without pay, she was never advised by the Defendant of any alleged failures in her performance nor had it taken any corrective action against her based on such allegations," the suit states.

Through a letter dated Nov. 13, Johnson was informed that she was being forced to resign or the company would terminate her, the complaint says.

On Nov. 14, Johnson claims she requested the opportunity to file a grievance challenging her suspension and termination. While Johnson was granted the chance to review her grievance on Dec. 10, Winchester Regional refused to provide Johnson with facts supporting the allegations of poor performance, according to her complaint.

Even after meeting with Winchester Regional's chief financial officer, Johnson was still not given the factual basis for her dismissal, the suit states.

Finally, on Dec. 30, Winchester Regional advised Johnson that it was upholding her termination and would not process her grievance farther, the complaint says.

"The Defendant terminated the Plaintiff's employment because of her age, not poor performance as it alleged," her suit states.

But Winchester Regional denies this allegation and insists it fired Johnson because of her poor performance. In addition, the company claims Johnson's allegations that it failed to provide her a factual basis for her termination are wrong.

"Defendant's actions were based upon legitimate, nondiscriminatory factors and not Plaintiff's age," the company's answer states.

After her termination, Johnson claims she was not paid for more than 200 hours of annual paid leave she had accrued and was not paid for more than 500 hours of sick leave. Winchester Regional also failed to provide Johnson with notice of her right to continue medical benefits after her termination, according to the complaint.

Winchester Regional maintains that it paid Johnson all annual paid leave and sick leave to which she was entitled, but makes no definitive response to her allegations about the company violating COBRA policy.

"The Defendant admits that Cobra generally requires that a notice of continuation of coverage informing an employee of her rights must be sent to an employee upon a qualifying event, including reduction in hours or termination other than by reason of gross misconduct," Winchester Regional wrote in its answer.

Because of her firing, Johnson has suffered lost wages, loss of future earnings, humiliation, embarrassment, emotional and mental distress and loss of personal dignity, her suit states.

Johnson is seeking compensatory, actual and punitive damages, plus pre- and post-judgment interest, costs, attorney's fees and other relief the court deems just. In addition, she is seeking her unpaid wages and statutory liquidated damages.

In its answer, Winchester Regional is asking the court to deny Johnson the relief she seeks and to dismiss her complaint. It is also asking for costs, attorney's fees and other relief the court deems just.

Winchester Regional removed Johnson's complaint to U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia on Sept. 11 on the basis of diversity of jurisdiction – Johnson is a West Virginia citizen, while it is a Virginia corporation. In addition, Winchester Regional says Johnson is seeking more than $75,000.

Barry P. Beck of Power, Beck and Matzureff in Martinsburg will be representing Johnson.

Charles F. Printz Jr. of Bowles, Rice, McDavid, Graff and Love in Martinsburg will be representing Winchester Regional.

U.S. District Court case number: 3:09-cv-60

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