CHARLESTON – A former Kanawha County Board of Education employee lost another round in her legal battle related to a board decision not to renew her probationary contract after a school principal and others witnessed behavior that they believed showed signs that the employee was impaired.
In a Feb. 17 opinion, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a decision by the Kanawha Circuit Court that the West Virginia Education and State Employees Grievance Board was right to suspend former Stonewall Jackson Middle School sign language interpreter Kerra Layne without pay and the Kanawha County Board of Education’s decision not to renew Layne’s contract for the 2014-2015 school year.
The circuit court’s March 17, 2016, order, which was affirmed by the appeals court, also awarded Layne eight days of back pay to account for time she was suspended beyond the statutory maximum without the consent of the county’s board of education.
According to the appeals court decision, Layne met with Stonewall Principal Jessica Austin and the school nurse regarding allegedly “erratic” behavior. Layne allegedly told Austin that her scoliosis caused her to move her body frequently, and general anxiety disorder caused her to speak quickly and in a “pressured” manner. Austin asked Layne to submit documentation related to her medical condition, but Layne never did so.
After the meeting with Austin and the nurse, other employees at the school noticed more allegedly erratic behavior, the decision states. Austin again personally evaluated Layne’s behavior and suspected that Layne was impaired, the decision states. The board’s human resources director recommended a drug test, based on Austin’s observations, but Layne refused. Layne was subsequently suspended without pay for refusing to submit to the drug test.
The board of education held a hearing in May 2014, at Layne’s request, to rule on whether her contract should be renewed. At that hearing, the board voted unanimously not to renew the contract. After the board’s vote, Layne filed her grievances.
“Kanawha County Schools is pleased with the decision, although it is consistent with all of the previous decisions,” Kanawha County Schools General Counsel James W. Withrow told The West Virginia Record. “KCS believed it was appropriate to suspend and dismiss an individual who appeared to be impaired at work but refused a drug test.”
Withrow said he is “not sure how significant it was” that Layne did not provide any documentation of her medical conditions.
“Her conduct on the day in question was very different than normal,” Withrow said. “The conditions Ms. Layne stated she has would not have resulted in her strange behavior on the day in question.”
Since a federal Fourth Amendment question is involved, Withrow said Layne could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review her case. However, he said he “(thinks) that’s unlikely to occur.”
On behalf of the West Virginia Public Employees Grievance Board, Diane M. Holley-Brown, director of administration for the West Virginia Department of Administration, told The West Virginia Record “the board or the administrative law judges cannot provide any additional comment relating to any decisions rendered.”