CHARLESTON – Cabell County jurors improperly awarded the equivalent of gold watches to 22 former jailers who lost their jobs when the state built regional jails, Sheriff Kim Wolfe argues at the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Wolfe wants the Justices to overturn a verdict awarding the jailers $303,654.90 in sick leave pay, liquidated damages, and interest.
Jurors found the jailers didn't know about a county policy that excluded sick leave pay on termination.
In Wolfe's appeal, Ancil Ramey of Charleston argued that Circuit Judge Jane Hustead should not have taken the case to trial.
"Essentially, respondents' argument is because retirees receive a gold watch, we're entitled to a gold watch, even though we were never promised one," Ramey wrote. "Merely because retirees are provided with a fringe benefit, however, does not permit non-retirees to claim, 'Where is my gold watch?'"
The Justices will hear oral arguments Tuesday, Sept. 20.
The jailers lost their jobs in 2003, and they sued in 2004.
At trial last year, jurors returned a verdict for the former jailers.
Wolfe moved for a new trial, and Hustead denied it.
She found the sick leave policy ambiguous and decided she must resolve the ambiguity in favor of the employees.
She awarded $98,225 to their lawyer, Michael Bailey of Barboursville.
Ramey appealed for Wolfe, writing that plaintiffs never contended they weren't paid what they had been told they would be paid upon separation.
"Rather, their contention is that because they allegedly were never expressly told that they would not receive payment, they are somehow entitled to it because they want it," Ramey wrote. "Employees who are made aware of the existence of policies, but simply choose not to read them, cannot later claim the benefit of their self imposed ignorance."
"This case involves, simply, a cleanly tried case in which the defendants were unhappy with the outcome," he wrote, adding that the county failed to distribute the policy or discuss it with employees.
"Had they done so, this case would never have happened."
He wrote that the county would place the burden on an employee to read every policy the employer implemented.
"To place such burdens on individual employees when they are neither responsible for setting the policies, nor for drafting the policies, nor for disseminating the policies is incomprehensible," Bailey wrote. "The lesson to this employer and to any other employer, as gleaned from the existing case law, is to actually distribute and make known to your employees those policies you create regarding their employment."