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Gaujot rules in favor of Morgantown in firefighter holiday pay dispute

MORGANTOWN—Monongalia County Circuit Court Judge Phillip Gaujot ruled in favor of the City of Morgantown Thursday regarding a lawsuit filed by its firefighters over improper holiday compensation.

“The members of the IAFF 313 respectful disagree with the rulings of Judge Gaujot, top to bottom,” said Attorney Teresa Toriseva, who represents the firefighters. “This ruling has left the firefighters with no choice but to appeal and we intend to do so immediately upon entry of the court’s written order.”

Gaujot ruled this case as not being a Wage Payment and Collection Act case. This means firefighters are not entitled to back payment for any improperly compensated time. Instead, the Morgantown firefighters are owed back time, which will be calculated by an appointed commissioner. 

This calculation will be based on a two-year period, which is reduced from the statute of limitations of five years. 

The initial lawsuit stated firefighters were compensated just 12 hours for a 24-hour shift for holiday compensation. The law requires firefighters be compensated with 1.5 times their pay, or equal time off for hours worked for holidays. Morgantown corrected the issue recently, but the legal battle for back wages continued. 

Days prior to Thursday’s hearing, expert witnesses calculated the City of Morgantown underpaid its firefighters by more than $4.6 million from June 7, 2014, to Feb. 18, 2020.

As previously reported, the report determined the city owes firefighters, including back wages, interest and a 40% attorney’s fee, $5,250,792.64 for the time period of June 7, 2014, to June 7, 2019 — when the firefighters initially filed suit against the city.

The city offered a $1.7 million settlement in April, but the firefighters sought $1.95 million and rejected the offer. During a June hearing, Gaujot advised Morgantown and IAFF Local 313 to attempt mediation again. That was unsuccessful. 

Both sides built detailed arguments citing rulings on similar issues, including a recent ruling in the supreme court that was in favor of Martinsburg firefighters. Gaujot previously said he planned to wait for this supreme court ruling to make a decision on the Morgantown case. 

Morgantown officials were not available for further comment prior to publication.

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