Preston commission seeks to dismiss former employee’s lawsuit

KINGWOOD — The Preston County Commission and Public Service District 1 are asking the court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a former PSD 1 employee.

John Keener filed suit in Preston Circuit Court in December, alleging nepotism, age discrimination and lack of pay.

The commission was sued because it is responsible for the, “control, supervision and management of the financial, business, personnel and other policies and affairs of Preston County, including the appointment of PSD 1 board members,” the suit says.

Attorney Jeffrey S. Zurbuch, writing on behalf of the commission, said it was not Keener’s employer, “and had no responsibility or duty to plaintiff with regard to the alleged claims asserted,” in the lawsuit.

The motion to dismiss says Keener, “incorrectly asserted” that PSD 1 is, “a subdivision of the Preston County Commission.” All three of Keener’s allegations, “concern alleged wrongdoing on the part of plaintiff’s employer, Preston County Public Service District No. 1,” the commission’s motion says.

County commissions’ responsibilities toward PSDs are limited to their “creation, enlargement, reduction, merger, dissolution, or consolidation,” and to appointing board members, Zurbuch writes.

PSD response

PSD 1 filed its first response to the suit and requested dismissal as well. In it, attorneys Chip E. Williams and Jared C. Underwood, of Pullin, Fowler, Flanagan, Brown & Poe, PLLC, deny all the allegations in Keener’s suit.

In the suit, Keener said he worked for PSD 1 from December 2001 until July 2, 2018, when his employment was terminated.

From 2007 on, he “was made” to hold two positions, plant manager and chief operator. He was not paid more for the second position, the suit said. Keener said he was also “required” to run PSD 2 for two years with no additional pay.

The district denies he was promised additional pay for being both plant manager and chief operator, and that the title change didn’t “substantially change” his job duties. It also denies he was promised additional pay for working with PSD 2.

While Keener was employed, PSD 1 board member Mike Adams “expressed the design to hire his son,” according to the suit. Adams’ son was hired to replace Keener as chief operator, and another relative was hired as plant manager, Keener said. This is nepotism, and neither is qualified for their new position, the suit said.

In its reply, PSD 1 says Keener was not fired to make way for Adams’ family members and no nepotism was involved.

The district also denies Keener’s termination was without cause or that age was a factor.

Keener is represented by attorney David Grunau.

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