West Virginia Record

Friday, July 19, 2019

Mon County commissioner loses suit against Board of Education

By Lawrence Smith | Nov 21, 2013

CLARKSBURG - A judge has ruled a Monongalia high school guidance counselor’s dispute with the county Board of Education over letting him attend county commission meetings is a contractual, and not constitutional, one.

U.S. District Judge Irene B. Keeley on Nov. 8 denied Tom Bloom’s motion for a preliminary injunction against the Board and members Barbara Parsons, Michael L. Kelly, Ron Lytle, Nancy Walker, Clarence Harvey, Jr. and Ronald M. Denovo. In it, Bloom, a guidance counselor at Morgantown High School, alleged a Board policy that prohibits full-time employees to take time off with pay to attend outside activities is a violation of his constitutional rights.

Initially filed in Monongalia Circuit Court in April, Bloom’s injunction sought to enjoin the Board from enforcing the policy so he could weekly commission meetings. In November’s general election, Bloom won an open seat to the commission, but since he took office in January, the Board, citing the policy, has refused to allow him to take flex-time to attend the meetings which are held on Wednesday afternoon.

In her 17-page opinion, Keeley said Bloom failed to demonstrate how the Board’s policy restricted any of his constitutional rights, including those under the First Amendment.

“The First Amendment claims in this case involve a private dispute between employers and employee,” Keeley said. “The gist of the claims deal with Bloom’s employment contract with the Board, not his protect rights to free speech and association.

“Bloom presents no evidence that the Board retaliated against him due to the speech he would be engaging in through his work with the County Commission.

“Bloom argues that the Board’s refusal to allow him to attend County Commission meetings during the school day impinges upon his rights to free speech and association. However, this is a situation the Board, not Bloom, has created. His decision to hold two jobs with conflicting hours has put him in the bind he confronts today.

“When Bloom entered into his employment contract with the Board, he agreed to be at work during school hours. He cannot now unilaterally change the terms of that contract in order to accommodate his new position.”

Repeated messages left with Bloom’s co-counsel, Robert M. Bastress, Jr., a West Virginia University College of Law professor, asking if he intends to appeal Keeley’s decision were not returned by presstime.

According to its payroll department, Bloom, after 36 years as a guidance counselor, resigned his employment with the Board on Oct.31. His salary was $65,031.75.

He had proposed working through his lunch period on Wednesdays and leaving work at 12:55 p.m. He would have missed 1.5 hours each week, and he said that time would be qualified as unpaid leave.

His salary as a county commissioner is $36,900.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, case number 13-cv-128

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