Justices side with Steptoe & Johnson in lawsuit filed by former legal secretary

By Kyla Asbury | Sep 12, 2017

CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has filed a memorandum decision, siding with Steptoe & Johnson in a lawsuit filed by a former legal secretary who claimed she was never given a fair shot.

The court found no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error in the circuit court’s previous ruling.

Coleen D. Sabatino worked as a legal secretary for Steptoe & Johnson in its Bridgeport office from Dec. 1, 2014, until March 18, 2015. She claimed that from her first day, she was dissatisfied with her treatment by employees of Steptoe & Johnson.

Sabatino was hospitalized for an illness from Feb. 17, 2015, until Feb. 20, 2015, and, when she was discharged, she was given light duty work restrictions, but the defendant believed her position was already light duty.

On March 15, 2015, Sabatino requested reassignment to another paralegal and to be moved to another office space, but, her requests were denied on March 17, 2015. She claims she felt she was going to be fired and she cleaned out her desk on March 18, 2015, and left a letter on her desk stating that she was resigning from her position.

On April 20, 2015, Sabatino applied for unemployment benefits and informed Workforce West Virginia that she felt she was going to be fired and did not want the termination to show on her employment history. She stated that she had attempted to resolve the situation to the best of her ability. On April 29, 2015, the commissioner of Workforce West Virginia denied her application for benefits on the grounds that she quit work voluntarily without good cause involving fault on the part of the law firm.

Sabatino appealed the decision and an administrative hearing was held on May 29, 2015. The administrative law judge issued a decision on June 1, 2015, finding that Sabatino was disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits because she quit work voluntarily and without good cause.

Sabatino appealed the June 1, 2015, decision to the Board of Review of Workforce West Virginia. An order was entered on July 27, 2015, adopting the administrative law judge’s decision. Sabatino appealed that decision to the Kanawha Circuit Court.

On July 18, 2016, the circuit court entered an order affirming the board’s July 27, 2015, order that disqualified her from receiving unemployment benefits.

“With regard to petitioner’s health, she alleges that, while being a legal secretary may not include much physical exertion, it can be mentally exhausting,” the decision states. “However, the ALJ found that petitioner had a light workload for a legal secretary because she worked for only one attorney (who also had a legal secretary at his other office) and one paralegal. We agree with the ALJ. Stress is common within any law firm that imposes deadlines for its employees to meet.”

The Supreme Court found that Sabatino was properly disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits pursuant to West Virginia Code because she voluntarily quit her job.

“For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the circuit court’s July 18, 2016, order upholding the Board’s July 27, 2015, order,” the decision states.

W.Va. Supreme Court of Appeals case number: 16-0769

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Steptoe & Johnson PLLC West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

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