CHARLESTON –- The Kanawha County Board of Education and Superintendent Ron Duerring find themselves continuing to battle against a former George Washington High School vice principal nearly two years after his termination.
Pete Corbett filed a lawsuit Dec. 23 in Kanawha Circuit Court against Duerring and the board, alleging they wrongfully fired him in retaliation for his exercise of First Amendment rights.
In his complaint, Corbett claims he and Duerring have been butting heads since October 1999 when Duerring summoned Corbett to his office to discuss disciplinary actions Corbett took as vice principal of George Washington High School.
"During the course of said discussion, Defendant Duerring made clear to Plaintiff that he had to learn to 'make deals' with students who were the children of persons of influence in order to prevent such persons from complaining to Defendant Duerring," the suit states.
"After Plaintiff indicated to Defendant Duerring that he would not 'make deals' or give special treatment to any students based on the influence of their parents, Defendant Duerring advised Plaintiff that his failure to 'make deals' would interfere with his ability to receive promotions in the future."
After the incident, Corbett claims Duerring attempted to retaliate against him by overlooking him for various positions in Kanawha County schools. In addition, Duerring disciplined Corbett for a variety of actions he undertook, which he doesn't specify but does say regarded matters of public concern.
Corbett was suspended without pay from Nov. 26 through Nov. 30 in 2007 as the result of a cookout in GW's parking lot on April 20, 2007, according to a Daily Mail article.
GW Principal Nancy Alexander had directed the campus be closed and no outside activities take place during the week of April 16 through 20, which was the week of the Virginia Tech Shootings. However, Corbett did not know about the rule because he had been out of town, he said.
So, when a group of students asked him if they could try a new grill that plugged into the back of their truck on April 20, Corbett agreed to supervise the lunch.
When he found out about his suspension, Corbett decided to use his days off cooking hot dogs at the corner of Elizabeth Street and Lee Street, raising money for battered women. The location happened to be half a block from the school board's central office.
In his lawsuit, Corbett claims Duerring succeeded in a final effort to retaliate against him when he recommended to the Kanawha County Board of Education that Corbett be fired.
Through a letter dated Sept. 9, 2008, Corbett learned of his termination, the suit states.
Because of his termination, Corbett lost wages and suffered emotional distress and humiliation, the complaint says.
In his complaint, Corbett alleges wrongful termination and negligent supervision against the school board and its superintendent.
He seeks lost wages; special damages; emotional distress, humiliation and other general damages; punitive damages; attorneys' fees; costs; and other relief to which he may be entitled.
Duerring and the Kanawha County Board of Education want to see Corbett's case dismissed, though, and claim he should not be entitled to damages.
They say that Corbett should have filed suit against Duerring long before December.
"The crux of Plaintiff's Complaint involves the alleged conversation that he had with Dr. Duerring in or about October 1999," the motion to dismiss says. "For each legal claim raised by Plaintiff in his Complaint, the statute of limitations began to run in October 1999, after Plaintiff informed Dr. Duerring of his refusal to 'make deals' with students whose parents were persons of influence (the alleged catalyst), which started Dr. Duerring's alleged retaliation against him for a period of approximately 10 years, until his termination in September 2008. Plaintiff cannot wait for 10 years to file suit against Defendants for injuries he knew existed in October 1999."
In addition, the board and Duerring say Corbett's complaint should be dismissed because he does not specify how they violated his First Amendment rights.
He also did not file a complaint with the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board as he was required to do before filing a complaint in court, Duerring and the board argue.
Duerring and the school board removed the case to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virignia, saying Corbett alleges his First Amendment rights were violated, which is a federal issue a federal court should hear.
They want Corbett's case dismissed with prejudice and to be awarded attorneys' fees and costs.
Michael W. Carey and David R. Pogue of Carey, Scott, Douglas and Kessler in Charleston will be representing Corbett.
Charles R. Bailey and Billie Jo Streyle of Bailey and Wyant in Charleston will be representing Duerring and the Kanawha County Board of Education.
U.S. District Court case number: 2:10-102