By Lawrence Messina
Ex-schools superintendent Jorea Marple plans to sue the state Board of Education for what her lawyers are calling her illegal dismissal and will ask for “serious” damages, the attorneys said Wednesday.
The four veteran lawyers representing the longtime educator, administrator and author announced the plan in a letter addressed to the board, which dismissed Marple Nov. 15.
“We will be demanding that she be restored to her job with back pay,” one of the lawyers, Timothy Barber, told The Associated Press late Wednesday. “We also will be demanding damages from the board for her wrongful termination, and damages, serious damages, for harm to her reputation.”
The other lawyers representing Marple are Rudolph DiTrapano, Patrick Maroney and Andrew MacQueen, a retired circuit judge.
The alleged damage to Marple’s reputation prevents her from finding a new job, Barber said. As an alternative to damages, Barber said the lawsuit would seek a due-process hearing at which the board would have to provide specific reasons for her firing. Amid arguments that Marple was an at-will employee, Barber said previous court rulings allow such a public official to pursue both damages and the due-process alternative.
Following the firing, the board issued a statement that referred to lagging student performance and a desire to “head in a new direction with new leadership.”
But that statement also said the board was not assigning blame for the state’s poor education rankings, and that Marple was no more responsible than “governors, legislators, educators or board members for these shortcomings.”
Wednesday’s letter provides the 30-day advance notice required by law before a state agency or official can be sued in such instances.
“However, we have not received a complaint, thus it would be inappropriate to make a comment about the matter at this time,” Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said Wednesday.
Barber said he has written the board’s lawyer separately, to ensure that all records related to the firing are preserved.
A petition filed with the state Supreme Court in November alleges that the board violated West Virginia’s open-meetings law when it fired Marple. The parents of a Boone County public school student brought that challenge, citing the lack of notice on the agenda of the board’s Nov. 15 meeting that Marple’s position would be discussed. It seeks to void her firing and block the hiring of a replacement.
But the board has since voted to hire James Phares for the job. Most recently Randolph County’s schools chief, Phares took his oath Wednesday. The board also revisited Marple’s firing and again voted to oust her in a late November meeting meant to quell any concerns over the open government law.
Two board members, Priscilla Haden and Jenny Phillips, voted against Marple’s firing and resigned late last month over her dismissal and how it was handled.