W.Va. Supreme Court considers immunity in Marple's suit

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W.Va. Supreme Court considers immunity in Marple's suit
By Pam Ramsey, The Associated Press

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Supreme Court is considering whether the state Board of Education can be sued by a former state schools superintendent over its decision to fire her.

The board has asked the court to overturn a circuit judge’s denial of its request to dismiss Jorea Marple’s lawsuit. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the appeal on Tuesday.

Marple was fired in 2012. She sued the board and former board President Wade Linger last year in Kanawha County Circuit Court, alleging defamation and violation of due process rights.

Both the board and Linger are entitled to qualified, or good faith, immunity for discretionary actions taken in terminating Marple’s employment, the board’s lawyers said in a filing with Supreme Court.

“It is unequivocal that the authority to select, appoint and retain a Superintendent at its will and pleasure is a discretionary function of the Board,” the board’s lawyers wrote.

A response filed by Marple’s lawyers said that discretion does not permit violation of constitutional or statutory rights.

“No absolute or qualified immunity protects these petitioners from the infliction by these petitioners on the rights and reputation of Dr. Marple,” Marple’s lawyer wrote.

The board’s lawyers said Marple’s claims are meritless. If the lawsuit is allowed to proceed, the board’s lawyers said the case could spawn a flood of similar meritless litigation by disgruntled state employees who are fired from at-will positions.

They also said the state and taxpayers will incur additional and unnecessary expenses “while dishonoring the public policy embodied in the clear constitutional and statutory prescription that the position of Superintendent is an at-will position.”

Marple is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, and a full hearing on why the board wanted to fire her with an opportunity to defend herself.

Marple’s lawyers said Linger and other board members held secret meetings to discuss her termination prior to firing her at a regular meeting on Nov. 15, 2012. The matter was not on that meeting’s agenda.

Board members revisited Marple’s firing on Nov. 29, 2012, and again voted to oust her. Two board members who opposed Marple’s dismissal resigned a month later.

Marple had served as the state’s schools chief since 2011, and previously served as deputy superintendent.