CLARKSBURG – A federal magistrate judge recommends denial of a Monongalia County commissioner’s request for a preliminary injunction against his employer, the county Board of Education.
On Oct. 2, U.S. Magistrate Judge John S. Kaull, of the Northern District of West Virginia, issued his report and recommendation in Thomas C. Bloom’s lawsuit against the board. At issue is Bloom’s availability for the commission’s weekly meetings, which take place on Wednesdays while Bloom is working as a guidance counselor at Morgantown High School.
“Bloom has not clearly shown that an injunction is in the public interest,” Kaull wrote.
“To the contrary, if the undersigned were to recommend an injunction under the facts and law applicable to this case, not only would it be a violation of the law as applied, it would invite anyone who claims to have an interest in speaking on a matter of public concern to demand their employer let them leave work to do so.
“As argued, this would mean that the McDonald’s employee or the local policeman or the local hospital emergency room doctor or nurse could unilaterally leave his or her job during work hours, without repercussion from the employer, to attend a rally in protest of a local exotic book store or club.”
Bloom argues the Board of Education has violated his First Amendment rights by not allowing him to take half-days off to attend commission meetings. The suit was filed April 11 in Monongalia Circuit Court and was removed to federal court two weeks later.
On Nov. 6, Bloom won the general election for county commissioner and on Dec. 9, Bloom was advised informally by MHS’s principal that Devono, the superintendent, would not grant a request for flex time or be allowed to take unpaid leaves of absence in half-day increments, but that he could take unpaid leaves of absence in full-day increments, according to the suit.
One of Bloom’s campaign platforms was to move commission meetings to evenings so more of the public could attend.
Bloom is seeking an injunction that prevents the Board of Education from interfering with his right to attend county commission meetings and conduct other commission business. He is represented by William E. Ford III of Ford Law Office and Robert M. Bastress Jr.
Kaull ruled that Bloom has failed to establish that Bloom’s claims center on matters of public concern or public importance.
“Bloom provides no causal connection between speech, the content of any speech, the context of any speech or the form of any speech and the Board’s refusal to give him time off to attend commission meetings,” Kaull wrote.
“There is no evidence that the Board retaliated against Bloom due to speech he engaged in or may engage in through his role with the Commission.
“(T)he dispute between Bloom and his employer… is not about Bloom holding a seat on the Commission. Instead, it is about the Board’s concern with Bloom’s ability to adequately fulfill his duties as guidance counselor at MHS and tend to the 400 students charged to him.”
The case is assigned to Judge Irene M. Keeley.
Representing the defendants are Kenneth L. Hopper and Keith C. Gamble of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe.
From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at firstname.lastname@example.org.