Marple files second lawsuit over termination

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By Andrea Lannom and Samuel Speciale 
The Charleston Daily Mail 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former state superintendent Jorea Marple has filed another lawsuit claiming the state Board of Education unfairly fired her.

Marple’s attorney, Timothy Barber, filed the lawsuit Monday in Kanawha Circuit Court. An earlier lawsuit making similar allegations is pending in federal court before U.S. District Judge Thomas Johnston.

The new lawsuit specifically names former board President Wade Linger as a defendant, in addition to the other members of the board. The earlier lawsuit only listed the board itself as a defendant.

Linger continues to serve on the board, but the current president is Gayle Manchin.

Mary Catherine Funk, attorney for the state Board of Education, said the board found out Tuesday that Marple filed a civil action against it and Linger, but did not receive a pre-suit notice.

State law requires a person to issue a notice of intent 30 days before suing a state agency.

Because Marple did not issue such a letter, the board has chosen not to comment, though it will continue to work with the Attorney General’s office to evaluate any claims against it, Funk said.

In the most recent lawsuit, Marple asserts Linger began an “agenda” to replace her in March 2012 and contacted other board members to do this, which the lawsuit says violates open meeting laws.

Marple was fired in November 2012 after a Public Works LLC audit found the education system was bloated with unnecessary staff and millions of dollars in inefficiencies. Marple’s lawsuit says the agenda for that November meeting didn’t list particulars and only listed a personnel matter that members would address in executive session. The board rejected a proposal to reconsider the firing in a meeting the next day.

After these two meetings, a proceeding in the state Supreme Court filed by Mountain State Justice on behalf of the parents of a Boone County student, questioned the procedure of the meeting. It says Linger then scheduled a special session to address the position in which the board again voted to fire Marple.

Marple’s lawsuit says she wasn’t given the chance to take in the “new direction” the education efficiency audit called for and instead was fired with less than 24 hours notice, “irrevocably staining a brilliant career in education of over three decades.”

West Virginia’s state code lists the superintendent as a “constitutional officer who serves at the will and pleasure of the board,” which some say means the board has standing to dismiss the superintendent without providing justification.

When Marple filed her first lawsuit against the Board of Education, her legal counsel said past rulings in similar cases involving “will and pleasure” employees set precedents that would help her win, though they didn’t cite any specific cases.

Marple’s lawsuits seek relief for the loss of reputation in the education field, loss of ability to get another job close to what she had and mental anguish.

In an interview with Huffington Post last January, Gary Ray, president of Ray and Associates — the education executive looking for a replacement for state superintendent Jim Phares — said a prior termination is usually not considered when a superintendent seeks another job.

He said superintendents being fired is often for political or philosophical differences and that it usually doesn’t hinder them from finding employment elsewhere.

“Usually, the prospective employer understands those circumstances,” he said.

Marple has been through a similar situation before. Marple was superintendent of Kanawha County Schools from 1993 to 1998, when board members Pete Thaw and Betty Jarvis reportedly pressured her and another administrator to resign.

Six years later, the state Department of Education hired her as an assistant superintendent for school improvement. She went on to become assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction and then deputy superintendent.

In February 2011, she became the first ever female state superintendent.

It isn’t clear whether she is currently seeking employment. Her attorney referenced Phares’ decision to retire in June, saying now is the perfect time for the board to consider re-hiring Marple.

“They can now take her back,” he said. “I don’t know if she would come back, but they could at least offer to hire her back.”

According to previous reports, Linger emailed Phares in September 2012. He didn’t talk about him taking the superintendent’s job but asked for his resume. Linger said he didn’t email anyone else to ask for similar information.

Linger said his reason for contacting Phares was that it wouldn’t be “prudent” for the president to recommend firing the superintendent without having a replacement in mind.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Linger said the governor’s education efficiency audit played a part in the board’s decision to move in a different direction.