Wilfong v. Randolph Cnty. Bd. of Educ., No. 18-0776

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtWALKER, Justice
Citation842 S.E.2d 229,243 W.Va. 25
Parties Melissa WILFONG, Plaintiff Below, Petitioner v. RANDOLPH COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant Below, Respondent
Decision Date22 April 2020
Docket NumberNo. 18-0776

243 W.Va. 25
842 S.E.2d 229

Melissa WILFONG, Plaintiff Below, Petitioner
v.
RANDOLPH COUNTY BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant Below, Respondent

No. 18-0776

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted: February 19, 2020
Filed: April 22, 2020


Andrew J. Katz, Esq., The Katz Working Families’ Law Firm, LC, Charleston, West Virginia, Counsel for Petitioner Melissa Wilfong.

Denise M. Spatafore, Esq., Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP, Morgantown, West Virginia, Counsel for Respondent Randolph County Board of Education.

WALKER, Justice:

842 S.E.2d 231

The Board of Education of Randolph County (Board) employed Melissa Wilfong as a half-time principal and half-time teacher at Valley Head Elementary School, which closed at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. In April of 2017, the Board approved Ms. Wilfong for transfer to another position and informed her that she did not yet have an assignment for the following school year. In August, Ms. Wilfong accepted a full-time teaching position and then grieved the Board's alleged failure to place her in a full-time administrative position. The Public Employees Grievance Board (Grievance Board) denied Ms. Wilfong's grievance as untimely. The circuit court affirmed the Grievance Board's order and Ms. Wilfong now appeals that order to this Court. Because Ms. Wilfong filed her grievance outside the time limitation imposed by West Virginia Code § 6C-2-4(a)(1), we affirm the circuit court's order.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Board employed Ms. Wilfong at Valley Head Elementary School for approximately six years before the school closed at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. The Board notified Ms. Wilfong by letter dated March 17, 2017, that because of the closure she would be recommended for transfer for the upcoming 2017-2018 school year. At that time, Ms. Wilfong was employed in a unique position as a half-time principal and half-time teacher. So, Ms. Wilfong was ineligible for direct transfer to any other position in the county. Only one other individual held a position similar to Ms. Wilfong's, a principal and math teacher at Pickens School. Ms. Wilfong was not eligible to transfer into that position because she lacked a required mathematics certification.1

At a special meeting on April 18, 2017, the Board approved Ms. Wilfong for transfer for the upcoming school year. At the same meeting, the Board considered "bumping" the least-senior assistant principal in the county to place Ms. Wilfong in that administrative position, which would have constituted a promotion to full-time administrator, but ultimately voted not to do so.2

On April 20, 2017, the Board notified Ms. Wilfong by letter that she had been approved for transfer, but not assigned a position for the 2017-2018 school year. Shortly after Ms. Wilfong received the letter, she contacted the Board for clarification regarding future assignment. Denise Fletcher, the Board's Director of Personnel, advised Ms. Wilfong that she would be an automatic applicant for all positions posted for which she was qualified. According to Ms. Fletcher, this meant that Ms. Wilfong would be in the pool of applicants, but would still need to submit applications and be interviewed for any job postings. At the Level III hearing on this matter, exhibits and Ms. Fletcher's testimony established that several administrative positions3

842 S.E.2d 232

opened in the spring and summer of 2017, but Ms. Wilfong declined to participate in the application process or to be interviewed for those positions.

On July 1, 2017, Gabriel Devono became the new superintendent. Sometime before that, the Board informed him of the circumstances surrounding Ms. Wilfong's transfer and he met with her to discuss the matter. At this meeting in June 2017, Mr. Devono advised Ms. Wilfong to apply for every position for which she was qualified to secure her exact employment position for the 2017-2018 school year. During the Grievance Board hearings, Mr. Devono testified that, if Ms. Wilfong had not submitted any applications by the time the school year commenced, he had the authority to place her in any available position without her input.

On June 14, 2017, Ms. Wilfong told Ms. Fletcher in an email that she would only apply for the principal position at George Ward Elementary School should it become available. The position became available and Ms. Wilfong submitted an application on July 17, 2017. There was more than one applicant for the position and the Board conducted interviews, but Ms. Wilfong did not get the job. As the beginning of the school year drew nearer, Ms. Wilfong applied on July 26, 2017, for a Remedial Specialist position, a full-time teaching position, at Tygarts Valley Middle and High School. The Board hired her for that position on August 1, 2017.

On the same day, Ms. Wilfong filed her grievance, complaining that the Board failed to place her in an administrative position within the county. At the Level III hearing on November 13, 2017, the Board argued that Ms. Wilfong filed her grievance outside of the fifteen-day window provided by West Virginia Code § 6C-2-4(a)(1). Essentially, the Board contended that Ms. Wilfong should have filed her grievance within fifteen days of receiving the April 20 letter informing her that she had not been assigned a position for the upcoming school year. Ms. Wilfong argued that she was not aggrieved until she knew with finality that the Board would not place her in an administrative position, a fact that only became apparent when the Board hired her as a Remedial Specialist on August 1, 2017. The Grievance Board agreed with the Board and denied Ms. Wilfong's grievance as untimely on January 25, 2018.

On March 9, 2018, Ms. Wilfong filed an appeal in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. The circuit court agreed that Ms. Wilfong's grievance was untimely and, by order dated August 3, 2018, affirmed the Grievance Board's decision. On September 5, 2018, Ms. Wilfong appealed that order to this Court.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We have previously held that "[t]his Court reviews decisions of the circuit court under the same standard as that by which the circuit court reviews the decision of the ALJ."4 West Virginia Code § 6C-2-5(b) sets that standard and explains the elevated burden an appellant must meet:

A party may appeal the decision of the administrative law judge on the grounds that the decision:

(1) Is
...

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1 practice notes
  • Miller v. Marion Cnty. Bd. of Educ., No. 19-1109
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 7, 2020
    ...Syl. Pt. 1, Randolph County Board of Education v. Scalia, 182 W. Va. 289, 387 S.E.2d 524 (1989)].Wilfong v. Randolph Cty. Bd. of Educ., 243 W. Va. 25, --, 842 S.E.2d 229, 232-33 (2020) (footnotes omitted). Petitioner raises two assignments of error on appeal. Petitioner first argues that th......
1 cases
  • Miller v. Marion Cnty. Bd. of Educ., No. 19-1109
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 7, 2020
    ...Syl. Pt. 1, Randolph County Board of Education v. Scalia, 182 W. Va. 289, 387 S.E.2d 524 (1989)].Wilfong v. Randolph Cty. Bd. of Educ., 243 W. Va. 25, --, 842 S.E.2d 229, 232-33 (2020) (footnotes omitted). Petitioner raises two assignments of error on appeal. Petitioner first argues that th......

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