CHARLESTON – A Charleston law firm is staking its claim to a portion of the settlement tentatively reached in a gender discrimination suit against WVU Tech.
Teri Harrison, and Alexis Cox are named as co-defendants in a breach of contract suit filed by the Ranson Law Offices. In their complaint filed in Kanawha Circuit Court on March 31, the Ransons -– Michael, his wife Cynthia and their partner, George Morrone III –- maintain the lion's share of the settlement Harrison and Cox are to receive in their Title IX suit should be going to them.
In February 2008, the Ransons filed suit in U.S. District Court to enforce a complaint resolution agreement WVU Tech previously reached with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. The agreement stemmed from a complaint Harrison, of Cabin Creek, and Cox, of Ripley, then seniors at WVU Tech, filed alleging inequities between how the school funded the men's baseball and women's softball programs.
Records show the sides agreed to attempt a settlement through mediation. After a day-long session on June 2, 2008, WVU Tech agreed to additional improvements in the women's softball program beyond its previous agreement with OCR.
Those improvements included upgrades to the existing field in Cannelton, employment of a full-time head, and assistant softball coach, a full-time Fall training program with a trainer, an equalized budget between the two programs. Also in exchange from releasing them from any further legal claims, WVU Tech agreed to pay Harrison and Cox's legal fees.
However, Harrison and Cox rejected the proposed settlement. In July 2008, Michael Ranson informed Judge David Faber of an exchange of e-mails he had with them following the mediation expressing their displeasure with not only the proposed settlement, but also his representation.
He made a motion that a determination be made an agreement had in fact been reached, and if the case move forward, he, Cynthia and Morrone be permitted to withdraw from it. On Sept. 11, 2008, Faber granted the Ransons' request to withdraw, and gave Harrison and Cox until Oct. 8 to find a new attorney.
Records show Charleston attorney Jim Less filed a notice of appearance on Sept. 23. After another two years of litigation, Faber on Oct. 5 directed both sides to file a proposed consent decree.
A settlement was reached on Jan. 25. The terms included the softball team using the baseball field at Riverside High School in Quincy for all its home games, employment of a full-time coach and WVU Tech paying Harrison and Cox a combined $10,000.
Upon learning of the settlement, the Ransons filed a motion to intervene to claim their share of the $10,000. In their motion, they noted their rejection of Lees' offer to waive their legal fees as he did in order for the settlement to receive final approval.
Records show a hearing was held Feb. 15 in Bluefield on not only the Ransons' motion to intervene, but also WVU Tech's motion to reinstate the suit in light of the Ransons seeking recovery of their legal fees. Since then, Faber has yet to rule on any of the motions.
In their breach of contract suit filed subsequent to the hearing, the Ransons say they are entitled to $8,679.38 of the $10,000 Harrison and Cox are to receive in their settlement with WVU Tech. Of that amount, $7,481.25 is in legal fees earned during the June 2, 2008, mediation, and $1,198.13 is in expenses incurred from the time the suit was filed until their removal as counsel.
According to the suit, the Ransons say Harrison and Cox on Nov. 30, 2007, agreed to a 40 percent contingency fee from any settlement. The agreement also called for Harrison and Cox to reimburse the firm for all expenses, and legal fees at $175 an hour in the event they discharged the Ransons prior to a settlement.
Three months after Faber granted their motion for removal, the Ransons submitted an attorneys' lien to Lees. According to the suit, Lees is holding the $10,000 awarded Harrison and Cox in trust pending Faber's approval of the settlement.
In addition to judgment for the legal fees and expenses in the Title IX suit, the Ransons seek pre-judgment interest, court costs and attorney fees for pursuing the breach of contract suit. Morrone is lead counsel in the case.
It is assigned to Kanawha Circuit Judge Louis H. "Duke" Bloom.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 11-C-528 (Ranson breach of contract suit) and U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia case number 08-cv-78 (Harrison and Cox Title IX suit)