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Age discrimination case wrongly filed in Kanawha, justices say

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Supreme Court justices on Friday reversed a lower court’s decision and said an age discrimination lawsuit should be moved from Kanawha County to Logan County.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Charlie King erred when he denied Thornhill Group’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit because it wasn’t filed in Logan County — where the alleged discrimination occurred, according to a Supreme Court opinion filed Friday.

George A. Roberts began working as general manager at the automotive dealership in Logan County in December 2006. In the spring of 2011, Roberts alleges, he learned the dealership decided to replace him with a younger employee.

In February 2013, Roberts filed suit in Kanawha Circuit Court over breach of contract, age discrimination, unlawful retaliation and unpaid wages, the opinion states.

Thornhill filed a motion to dismiss the suit, saying it should be tried elsewhere. King said, however, that the venue was appropriate because Roberts allegedly had accepted an offer of employment from the Thornhill Group in Kanawha County, and Roberts lived in Kanawha when the alleged breach of contract occurred.

Roberts’ “damages would be most acutely felt there,” King wrote, the opinion states.

But justices wrote that under the state’s general venue statute, a “plaintiff’s residency has no independent bearing on where an action may be maintained.” Also, the opinion states, justices didn’t see any evidence to support that claim. Attorneys with Thornhill maintain the offer of employment was made and accepted at the dealership in Logan, the opinion notes.

Either way, the only thing relevant is where the breach of contract ensued, not where it was accepted, justices wrote.

“By focusing on the location of the alleged contract’s acceptance, the trial court overlooked the critical need to determine where the cause of action arose when deciding where venue lies,” the opinion states.

Reach Kate White at or 304-348-1723.

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