Sustained Outrage

Maloney whiffs with latest anti-lawsuit comments

Some politicians love to criticize lawsuits, and apparently GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney is one of them. But often, if you dig a little bit — even just a tiny bit — into their specific attacks, you find out things aren’t exactly the way they make it sound.

Maloney’s comments earlier this week on Hoppy Kercheval’s Talkline show are a good example. Here’s what Maloney said:

… I was going into Cedar Lakes the other night in Jackson County. I passed a manufacturing facility that had been there a couple years ago. They’re not there anymore. You know why? Because there was a huge multimillion-dollar verdict for wrongful termination or something like that, and the company moved to Ohio. That happens all the time.

Maloney has trotted this out before. He’s talking about Stella-Jones Corp. closing a Ripley facility in 2010. Indeed, a Jackson County jury did award a $2.1 million verdict against the facility’s owners, ruling in favor of Jerold John Rice Jr., a 24-year veteran of the company. Rice sued for age discrimination when, after never receiving a poor evaluation or being reprimanded, he was discharged and replaced by a substantially younger employee. A local jury decided Rice was wrongly terminated and awarded him $143,000 in back pay and nearly $2 million in future pay, as well as $138,000 in legal fees and costs.

So did that verdict have anything to do with the company closing its plant … well, here’s what the story published at the time by the pro-business State Journal had to say:

Jackson County’s headquarters of Stella-Jones Inc. will be relocated in Pittsburgh this fall.

Twenty-six employees at the company’s Fairplain office will have an option to bid on positions at the new corporate location, according to Doug Fox, senior vice president.

The Canadian-owned treated wood company constructed a new office building in Fairplain after acquiring the Burke Parsons Bowlby Corp. Fox said the decision to move the headquarters to Pennsylvania came after Stella-Jones purchased Pittsburgh-based Tangent Rail Corp. for $165 million in April.

“Tangent had corporate offices in Pittsburgh, and we had the office in Ripley from Burke Parsons Bowlby,” Fox said. “We can’t afford to have two head offices, so we will be moving to a new location in Pittsburgh.”

And as lawyer Paul Ferrell, then the president of the state’s trial lawyer lobby, wrote in a commentary for the Chamber of Commerce-backed West Virginia Record:

Stella-Jones cannot be too surprised about the verdict because it has been sued for the exact same age-discrimination claim in the state of Washington (where it still operates a facility). Stella-Jones cannot be too sore at West Virginia because it is still operating another facility, in Spencer …

To be clear, Stella-Jones never said it relocated the Ripley plant to Pittsburgh because it was sore about a lawsuit. That rhetoric came by way of a cheap shot by a politician stumping for votes. A scare tactic, if you will. A little bit of truth stuffed with a lot of baloney.