Father and son allege wrongful termination in Mason

By Lawrence Smith | May 21, 2010

POINT PLEASANT - A father and son have filed suits against a Bend-area municipality for wrongful termination.

Stephen Ohlinger Sr. and Stephen J. Ohlinger Jr. filed separate lawsuits against the town of Mason in Mason Circuit Court alleging they were improperly fired last year from their respective jobs with the town's water office. Ohlinger Jr. also names Mayor Jerry Tucker as a co-defendant in his suit, and also makes a claim of malicious prosecution after Tucker falsely accused him of refusing to disclose passwords related to the water office following his termination.

Ohlinger Jr., 28, was first to file his suit on March 29. In it, he states he was employed at the town's water office from 2002 until 2009.

The town council on Jan. 3, 2005, promoted Ohlinger Jr. to chief water operator. He alleges the implied contract between he and the town required that he not be fired without cause, and the town's discipline policy stated that any termination be preceded by an oral or written reprimand.

On Aug. 21, Ohlinger Jr. alleges he was terminated without cause. He states that contrary to the discipline policy in the town's employee handbook he was never reprimanded or disciplined for any reason.

Two weeks later, Ohlinger Jr. was arrested and charged for disruption of computer services. Records show Tucker swore out a warrant on Ohlinger Jr. after he allegedly failed to provided passwords to the town's water system program to Mason Police Chief J.R. Gilley and other town employees.

Following his arraignment in Mason Magistrate Court, Ohlinger Jr. was released on $1,000 personal recognizance bond.

In his defense, Ohlinger Jr. avers he never "willfully and intentionally" refused to disclose the passwords from town employees. Instead, as a result of a nervous breakdown and the subsequent death of a family member following his termination, Ohlinger Jr. said he couldn't remember them.

Ohlinger Jr. says he was not the only employee who knew the passwords, which were eventually found in a desk drawer. Also, in his suit, Ohlinger Jr. states that during the trial, Tucker "testified that the computer at issue was a standalone computer and was not used for any of the Town of Mason's billing, payroll, or budgeting functions."

A jury on Dec. 16 found Ohlinger Jr. not guilty on the disruption charge.

Six days before his son's acquittal, records show Ohlinger Sr., 48, was fired as chief operator of the town's sewer treatment plant. According to his suit filed on April 8, it was a job he had held since 1982.

In his suit, Ohlinger Sr. alleges the town violated state law when the council meet to discuss his termination. His termination was improper, Ohlinger Sr. alleges, since the council failed to provide the public notice of the meeting, and conducted it behind closed doors.

In their suits, the Ohlingers allege as a result of being terminated they've suffered "mental anguish, embarrassment, annoyance, inconvenience, humiliation" plus lost wages and earning capacity. In defending himself against the disruption charge, Ohlinger Jr. alleges he's also suffered "anxiety, depression, stress, medical expenses and damage to his professional reputation."

They both seek unspecified damages, court costs and attorney fees. Ohlinger Jr. is represented by Brent Kesner, and Ohlinger Sr. is represented by Dan Greear with the Charleston law firm of Kesner, Kesner and Bramble.

Both cases are assigned to Judge David W. Nibert.

Mason Circuit Court case numbers 10-C-26 (Ohlinger Jr.) and 10-C-31 (Ohlinger Sr.); Mason Magistrate Court case number 09-M-1416 (Ohlinger Jr. criminal)

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