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Firefighters, Morgantown appear in court over holiday pay lawsuit

MORGANTOWN — A lawsuit filed against Morgantown by its firefighters over improper holiday compensation is complicated, and both sides have merit.

That’s according to Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Gaujot, who said it didn’t make sense for the case to go to trial.

“You’re going to go back to mediation and settle this case,” Gaujot said. 

Attorney Teresa Toriseva, who represents the firefighters, said she agrees the case needs to be resolved because the lawyers are the only people benefiting from its continuation — not the firefighters.

Morgantown’s attorney Ryan Simonton directed The Dominion Post to the city’s spokesperson for comment after the hearing. The city did not wish to comment.

The law requires firefighters to be compensated with 1.5 times their pay or equal time off for time worked on a holiday or if a regularly scheduled day off falls on a holiday. After the lawsuit was filed by firefighters, the issue was corrected going forward, which Toriseva said the firefighters are grateful for.

The two sides are essentially at an impasse over 8 hours. Morgantown’s firefighters work 24-hour shifts from 8 a.m. to 8 a.m. The city wants to reimburse firefighters for what they actually work on a holiday — either 8 hours or 16 hours — while the firefighters believe they should get an entire day of compensation or 36 hours of pay.

By way of example, Gaujot asked if a firefighter’s regularly scheduled day off was on Monday for West Virginia Day what each side would compensate them. According to Josh Miller, an attorney for the firefighters, 24 hours time off or 36 hours of pay. According to Simonton, 16 hours, which is the maximum a firefighter could work on any given holiday.

“They want to split it here to mitigate their damages,” Toriseva said. “I understand that, wanting to mitigate the damages. And they’re entitled to do that. The problem is the firefighters are entitled to what the statute offers — 24 hours off or 36 hours of pay. And when you look back, it has to be pay. … You can’t give an entire fire department thousands of hours of time off.”

Both sides made detailed and complex legal arguments citing cases that have ruled on similar issues, including one that is before the state supreme court. 

Gaujot acknowledged the case’s complexity and said he’s not sure how he would rule in the case and that he may wait for a supreme court ruling. He added both sides are taking a risk if they go to trial, and he really believes mediation is the way forward.

If the two sides can’t figure it out, “we’ll argue this some more, and I’ll make a decision,” Gaujot said. Another hearing is set for the end of July.

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