Stephen Ohlinger Sr. and his son, Stephen J. Ohlinger Jr., filed separate lawsuits against the town in Mason Circuit Court. Both men said that they were wrongfully terminated from their jobs at the Town of Mason Water Office.
In addition, Ohlinger Jr. named Mason Mayor Jerry Tucker as a co-defendent in his suit against the town. Ohlinger Jr. was the first to file suit. According to case documents from the Circuit Court of Mason County, Ohlinger Jr. served as the town’s chief water operator from 2002 to 2009. In August 2009, Tucker allegedly terminated Ohlinger Jr. without cause, however, the case document states that prior to August 2009 Ohlinger Jr. was never reprimanded or disciplined for any actions described in the Town of Mason’s Employee Handbook.
The case document also states that as a public employee, Ohlinger Jr. was entitled to civil service procedural safeguards before discharge, which were apparently not met or compiled with by Tucker and the Town of Mason. On Sept. 4, 2009, Ohlinger Jr. was charged with violation of West Virginia Code 61-3C-8, disruption of computer services, a misdemeanor, in the Magistrate Court of Mason County.
According to the case document, the charge of disruption of computer services was based solely on a complaint made by Tucker, who claimed that Ohlinger Jr. had withheld passwords from the town’s water system program. The criminal complaint alleged that Mason Police Chief J.R. Gilley and other town employees had requested the passwords from Ohlinger Jr., but he refused to provide them.
Ohlinger Jr. stated that he did not knowingly, willfully or without authorization cause the disruption of computer services. The case document also states that other town employees knew the computer password.
During the trial for the criminal charges against Ohlinger Jr., Tucker testified that the computer at issue was a standalone computer that was not utilized for any of the town’s billing, payroll or budgeting functions. On Dec. 16, 2009, the jury found Ohlinger Jr. not guilty on the disruption of computer services charge.
In a separate case, Ohlinger Sr. has demanded judgment against the Town of Mason for his alleged wrongful termination. Ohlinger Sr. was employed as the chief operator of the Town of Mason’s sewage treatment plant, a job that he had held since 1982. On Dec. 10, 2009, Ohlinger Sr. was terminated from his position.
According to the case document, upon information and belief, through the Town of Mason Council, the town held a closed meeting to consider the discharge and dismissal of Ohlinger Sr. without giving notice to the public, which is a violation of West Virginia Code 6-9A-1-7 et seq.
Due to their alleged wrongful terminations, both Ohlinger Jr. and Ohlinger Sr. reported that they have endured “mental anguish, embarrassment, annoyance, inconvenience, humiliation and will suffer a loss of earning capacity and sustain future lost wages.” Ohlinger Jr. is represented by Brent Kesner, while Ohlinger Sr. is represented by Dan Greear with the Charleston Law Firm of Kesner, Kesner and Bramble.
Both Ohlinger Jr. and Ohlinger Sr.’s cases have been assigned to Judge David W. Nibert.