W.Va. Supreme Court upholds 2007 firing of archivist

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The grievance filed by former state Archives and History Director Fred Armstrong after he was sacked from his long-held post in 2007 finally stalled in the West Virginia Supreme Court.The high court issued a ruling Tuesday that denies Armstrong's appeal of a state Public Employees Grievance Board decision to dismiss his complaint against West Virginia Division of Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith.Armstrong, who served as director of the state archives for more than 20 years, has maintained that Reid-Smith fired him because he opposed administrative changes to the archives that he believed were in violation of state law.Those changes included a proposal to merge the state archives library with the state lending library in order to build a café in the vacated facility and a decision by Education and the Arts Secretary Kay Goodwin to transfer the publication of the annual state history from Archives and History to the West Virginia University Press.
On Nov. 1, 2007, the same day that he was fired without explanation, Armstrong filed a complaint with the state Public Employees Grievance Board, claiming that his dismissal was improper. The board rejected the grievance a year later based on findings that Reid-Smith did not violate any laws by ordering the administrative changes to the archives.Armstrong appealed the decision to the Supreme Court after Kanawha County Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib Jr. affirmed the board's decision.Armstrong's lawyers also had argued that he was wrongly denied the opportunity to have an administrative law judge hear the case.The Supreme Court, however, found that the board is within its power to dismiss grievances that are without merit. The court also agreed that Armstrong's at-will status gave Reid-Smith the authority to fire him unless he violated substantial public policy in doing so.Reach Zac Taylor at Zachary.Taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.
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