Suit Accuses Cabell Clerk's Office of Hostile Work Environment

Lawrence J. Smith
Pictured here with Sheriff Chuck Zerkle, left, and Secretary of State Mac Warner last November, Cabell County Clerk Phyllis Smith is accused in a civil suit filed the month before of creating a hostile working environment. In her suit,
Pictured here with Sheriff Chuck Zerkle, left, and Secretary of State Mac Warner last November, Cabell County Clerk Phyllis Smith is accused in a civil suit filed the month before of creating a hostile working environment. In her suit,
Melissa Weaver Parsons says she was forced to quit due to a pattern of harassment from Chief Deputy Teresa Powell that included a Facebook post expressing her displeasure with a prohibition of Office employees wearing apparel with an American flag.

            A former Cabell County deputy clerk says she was subject to a pattern of harassment by her superiors with hostile comments made about her health, job performance and criticism of the Office’s dress code.

            Phyllis K. Smith is named as a co-defendant in a constructive discharge suit filed by Melissa Weaver Parsons.  In her suit filed Oct. 28 in Cabell Circuit Court, Parsons, a Huntington resident, alleges the harassment she received from Smith, and Chief Deputy Teresa Powell that culminated in a pre-Independence Day post she made to Facebook expressing her displeasure with the Office’s dress “policy”, left her little choice but to quit.

            Powell is named as a co-defendant in the suit.

            According to her complaint, Parsons says upon beginning work at the Clerk’s Office she informed Smith of an autoimmune disease, and asked to be provided a reasonable accommodation for her job.  Thereafter, Parsons says Powell “created a hostile work environment.”

            The hostility, Parsons alleges, included Powell waiting at her desk “in the mornings, clearly timing her arrival, and making condescending gestures toward the clock often in front of the other employees.”  Also, Powell “consistently demeaned Parsons’s contributions to the office and degraded [her] in front of her peers.”

            On July 2, Parsons says the Clerk’s Office was informed they could wear blue jeans for July 3 in observance of Independence Day.  However, Parsons and her fellow deputies “were explicitly warned…that they were forbidden to wear clothing that displayed the American flag.”

            Sharing the sentiment of most of her co-workers, Parsons, took to Facebook later that evening to voice her displeasure with the policy since her son is a U.S. Marine stationed abroad.  Even without identifying “where she worked nor identifying any person in conveying the dress code restriction,” Parsons says her “post received enormous feedback from people throughout the community who were also outraged at this restriction including a sitting Cabell County Commissioner.”

            That Commissioner has subsequently been identified as Kelli Sobonya.

            According to the complaint, Parsons adhered to the policy, and opted to wear a purple dress to work.  Upon arrival, she was accosted immediately by Powell “who intensely berated her for her Facebook post, and mocked her for wearing” the dress.

            Shortly thereafter, Powell “in an irate fashion” instructed Parsons to remove the post, and Smith was on her way to discuss it, and could not guarantee what would happen thereafter.  After “an extended exchange,” Powell exclaimed to Parsons “‘this is ridiculous” accusing her of “‘being your usual defiant self, wearing a dress today.’”

            Additionally, Powell told Parsons “’you will immediately be dealt with when Phyllis gets here.’” As a result of “this continued “hostile work environment” Parsons says she “was forced to quit her employment, and was therefore constructively discharged.”

             In her complaint, Parsons alleges since her departure from the Clerk’s Office, she has yet to receive her final paycheck, and her wages were unlawfully garnished.  Furthermore, she claims the Clerk’s Office routinely fails to pay former employees their final compensation in a timely fashion.

            As such, in addition to what’s owed her, Parsons seeks class-action certification of her suit to pay deputies all “wages, commissions and reimbursements due and owing [them] at the time of [their] termination” under the state Wage Payment and Collection Act.

            Parsons is represented by J. Zak Ritchie and Andrew C. Robey with the Charlestonl aw firm of Hissam Donovan Ritchie.  The case is assigned to Judge Paul T. Farrell.

             Cabell Circuit Court, case number 19-C-487

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