CHARLESTON – A Charleston lawyer is alleging her attempt to blow the whistle on the misconduct of other lawyers got her fired.
Rena Seidler on May 2 filed a wrongful termination suit against Turner & Johns in Kanawha Circuit Court. In her complaint, Seidler, 30, alleges she was terminated as an associate last month for filing an ethics complaint against opposing counsel in a case.
According to her suit, Seidler began working at Turner & Johns on Jan. 17, 2011. On April 17, she informed Bob Johns, one of the partners, she was considering filing a complaint against "certain lawyers from other law firms" with the Lawyer Disciplinary Board for "act[ing] in an unethical manner in a legal case."
The names of the lawyers, the firms and the case are not specified in Seidler's suit. After listening to her concern, Johns told Seidler, "'We don't file ethics complaints.'"
Nevertheless, on the next day, Seidler prepared a complaint "against the attorneys in the legal case." After she completed it, she faxed a copy to the Board's office in Kanawha City, and placed the original in sealed, stamped envelope.
In her suit, Seidler says neither the fax cover sheet nor envelope used the firm's letterhead.
Sometime after placing the sealed, stamped envelope in the outgoing mail, Seidler alleges Johns removed, and opened it. Later that evening, Seidler says she received a call from Wendel Turner, the firm's other partner, saying the complaint is "'something we need to fix'" and instructed her to arrive at the firm's office on Brooks Street at 8:15 the next morning to "'figure out a way to undo what you have done.'"
Upon meeting with Turner the morning of April 19, Seidler says he told her "'There is still time to remedy this.'" When she stood by the allegations made in her complaint, Seidler says Turner rebuked her saying "'I need you to decide if that is what you going to do or if we are going to let you go.'"
According to her suit, Seidler says she was fired "minutes later." Upon her termination, she was "escorted to her office, asked to pack her things and turn in her keys, and escorted to her car without the ability to return."
As a result of Turner & Johns' actions, Seidler alleges she has suffered humiliation and embarrassment. Along with ones for retaliation and wrongful termination, Seidler makes a claim against Turner & Johns for violation of the state Wage Payment and Collection Act for failing to remit the $461.55 she earned April 17-19 within 72 hours of her termination.
Seidler seeks compensatory damages to include triple times her lost wages and benefits under WPCA, front pay, interest, attorneys fees and court costs. She is represented by Maria W. Hughes with the Charleston law firm of Hughes and Goldner.
The case is assigned to Judge Carrie Webster.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 12-C-794