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Marple sues state school board over firing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Former state Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple is suing the West Virginia Board of Education and demanding a hearing to confront its members over her termination in November, claiming that her firing was unlawful and "contrived in secret."

The actions of the state-governed board violated Marple's rights and caused her to suffer irreparable damage to her reputation and ability to gain future employment, in addition to mental anguish, according to a complaint filed by Charleston attorney Tim Barber in Kanawha County Circuit Court Friday afternoon.

Attorneys Patrick Maroney and Andrew MacQueen III also are representing Marple in the case.

The lawsuit claims that state board President Wade Linger began an agenda nine months before Marple was fired to replace her and contacted various board members about the plan. None of those efforts were revealed to Marple, the full membership of the board or the public, as required by law, according to the complaint.

The board's actions were "willful, wanton, and in reckless disregard" of Marple's rights, the lawsuit claims.

The U.S. and West Virginia constitutions protect citizens against state action that affects their liberty or property interests. Although Marple served at the "will and pleasure" of the board, she had liberty and property interests in her employment as state superintendent, and has a right to due process of law, according to the complaint.

During a regular board meeting Nov. 15, 2012, the board spent more than an hour -- without Marple -- in private session and then returned with one amendment to the agenda. A motion to end her employment immediately, which was approved 5-2.

The board later revisited that process, and officially placed Marple's termination on a later agenda and opened it up to the public for discussion. That was an attempt to remedy any violations of the Open Meetings Law that might have occurred during the first meeting.

 "[Marple] was never provided an opportunity to digest whatever the 'new direction' was and offer to facilitate it or refuse to do so," the lawsuit states. "Instead, she was summarily dismissed with less than 24 hours notice, irrevocably staining a brilliant career in education of over three decades."

Linger and board members Gayle Manchin, Robert Dunlevy, William White, Michael Green and Lloyd Jackson voted to terminate Marple. Members Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips voted against firing her and resigned from the board the same day Marple was terminated.

Only Jackson, who was out of town during the first meeting, missed the initial vote.

Marple is requesting an opportunity to confront her accusers and rebut the charges in a court hearing with legal counsel present.

Marple's firing was illegally tallied and spearheaded by Linger, who verbalized vague, insufficient reasons for her termination following an executive session, the lawsuit claims.

"All of the reasons, pontifications, statistical reports and verbiage recited by Linger and 'adopted' by a majority of the board members as they relate to [Marple] were false, had no relationship to her tenure as superintendent . . . to advance an agenda," the lawsuit claims.

In addition, West Virginia public policy requires that all contracts be dealt with in good faith and with fairness free of arbitrary, capricious or despotic action, which was violated in Marple's case, according to the lawsuit.

Marple is requesting a "full airing of the issues" in court, in addition to compensatory and punitive damages.

Barber said that in Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education-driven State of the State address earlier this week, an important piece was left out. Marple, he said, was working on all the areas of need in the public school system when she was abruptly ousted.

"She addressed each and every facet of the proposal, including the audit, when Linger and his allies dumped her after plotting to do so in secret for months," Barber said Friday. "Linger complained that he is 'just a businessman,' and he approached the firing of Dr. Marple as a businessman. Then he complained that he can understand how many people don't want to serve in government.

"Well, if his business practices promote secret deals and hidden agendas to vilify dedicated leaders," Barber said, "he is correct that it has no place in the public light."

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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