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Federal suit filed to try to recover wages

WHEELING — Six state employees are claiming their wages were shorted when West Virginia changed to a biweekly pay schedule.

Heather Morris, Pamela Stumpf, Stacey Facemire, Lula V. Dickerson, Lisa Wilkinson and Kathryn A. Bradley filed the federal lawsuit seeking class-action certification in Wheeling in the U.S. District Court for Northern West Virginia. The case, originally in state court, was filed in the district court on Dec. 31.

The state switched from a twice a month, or 24 pays, pay schedule to a bi-weekly, or 26 payments per year schedule in 2017, the lawsuit said. Converting the pay schedules didn’t mean salary could be reduced or withheld, the lawsuit said.

Rather than change the payroll cycle from bi-monthly to bi-weekly, the Executive Branch, the Judicial Branch and the Commission on Special Investigations used the conversion to take about 1.75 percent or greater from each employee’s annual pay, “except for those holding the position of an elected official,” the lawsuit said. Elected officials received a payment, Teresa Toriseva of Toriseva Law in Wheeling, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said.

“Tens of thousands of West Virginia salaried employees were shorted in pay, and we are taking the fight to federal court to correct a mistake that should never have been made,” Toriseva said. “While elected officials received a one-time payment ensuring they received their accurate annual salaries, the everyday employees of the State of West Virginia have been ignored. The powerful paid themselves, but they refuse to pay the rank and file workers. This lawsuit is their voice.”

The lawsuit explains how employees were paid over the years up to the changeover in 2017. Salaried employees were shorted in 2017, paid in full in 2018, but not compensated in 2019 for the shortage in 2017, the lawsuit said.

The amount withheld has never been repaid, Toriseva said. From 20,000 to 30,000 state salaried employees are affected, Toriseva said.

The state’s position is it can fail to pay wages by redefining when it will pay wages in the future, the lawsuit said. As much as $30 million in wages could have been withheld, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit names numerous state officials, including the governor, auditor, treasurer, secretary of state, attorney general, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the Commission on Special Investigations.

The state’s position is it can fail to pay wages by simply redefining when the state will pay wages in the future, the lawsuit said.

“That as a result, the state of West Virginia claims that it now ‘borrows’ over 40 percent of an employee’s paycheck to pay back the money that was ‘borrowed’ or taken during the (2017) conversion,” the lawsuit said. “That this ‘borrowing’ that is on a continuous basis places employees two pay cycles in arrears.”

A lawsuit alleging the same claims as the federal complaint was dismissed in December by Senior Status Judge Thomas C. Evans in Kanawha County, who ruled the employees were not shorted in their wages. The state case said the office of the state auditor did not failure correctly calculate and pay the wages of around 40,000 state employees.

The employees are represented by Toriseva of Toriseva Law In Wheeling, the Ranson Law Offices and the Jacobs Law Office in Charleston and McCoid Law Office in Wheeling.