BUCKHANNON – A former city employee has sued the City of Buckhannon, alleging wrongful termination and violation of her constitutional rights to free speech and due process.
Upshur County resident Laura Foulks, a seasonal Street Department employee who worked for the city’s horticulture program, filed the civil lawsuit in Upshur County Circuit Court Friday, Sept. 17 via her attorney Timothy W. Gentilozzi of Gentilozzi, Beck and Flanigan in Clarksburg.
According to the lawsuit, Foulks is alleging breach of contract, retaliatory/wrongful termination and violation of her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Article III Sections 1 and 10 of the West Virginia Constitution when “[the City of Buckhannon] wrongfully discharged her from her employment after speaking at a city council meeting on September 2, 2021.”
The lawsuit says that on Sept. 2, 2021, Foulks attended a Buckhannon City Council meeting to “[voice] concerns she had with recent posts made on Facebook by a newly appointed council member” and then, the day after, on Sept. 3, 2021, Foulks was informed, “she was being discharged early from her employment with the City of Buckhannon as she had been verbally promised employment into October 2021 when she took the job.”
Count 1 of the suit alleges retaliatory/wrongful discharge, saying that the termination of employment violated “the verbal employment contract offered to [Foulks]” when she initially accepted the job offer. The city’s actions were “not taken in good faith but malicious and with retribution and were in violation of clearly established law,” according to the complaint.
Count 2, which accuses the city of violating Foulks’s First Amendment right to exercise of free speech and Fourteenth Amendment right to due process, describes the municipality’s alleged actions as “wanton and blatant disregard of the rights owed to [Foulks], thereby justifying an award of punitive damages.”
According to the complaint, Foulks is requesting a trial by jury and seeks to recover damages for mental pain and suffering, past and future; humiliation, embarrassment, and degradation; lost wages and attorney fees awarded by the court; statutory fees if applicable and court costs; and punitive damages.
When reached for comment Monday, city attorney Tom O’Neill said the lawsuit is “without merit.”
“This lawsuit is utterly without merit and the complaint makes several untrue statements,” O’Neill said. “The City of Buckhannon will ultimately be vindicated in court.”
Buckhannon mayor Robbie Skinner on Monday declined to comment due to the pending status of the litigation.
According to court documents, the city has 20 days to file a reply in Upshur County Circuit Court.