David Woolsey, a Logan man who was recently fired from his job after posting a video of state Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, illegally passing his car, is suing Ojeda for civil rights violations, according to a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of West Virginia on Monday afternoon.
The suit alleges Ojeda — who is currently running for West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District — violated the First Amendment by using his influence and power as a sitting member of the state Senate to try and hinder Woolsey’s right to free speech.
On April 20, Woolsey posted a Facebook video that shows Ojeda, in his distinctive red jeep, passing Woolsey and his then-coworker, John Miller, over double yellow lines on a blind curve on W.Va. 10.
That night Ojeda posted a response to the video on his official Facebook page, which he uses to share information with constituents and also campaign. In the video, which has since been deleted from Ojeda’s page, Ojeda calls Woolsey an “oxygen thief” and some other insults. He then calls out McCormick’s Furniture, where Woolsey worked for 10 years and whose truck he was traveling in when he filmed the video of Ojeda, reprimanding the business for its employee’s actions.
The suit alleges that at least one Facebook user commented on the video calling for a boycott of McCormick’s Furniture.
On Saturday, the day after both videos were posted, Ojeda called David McCormick, owner of McCormick’s, who said the senator apologized for putting the business in the middle of the argument.
The next Monday, Woolsey showed up to work at McCormick’s as usual. Around lunchtime, he was called into McCormick’s office, where he said he was fired.
The lawsuit alleges that Ojeda’s video was an attempt by a public official — since it was posted on his official Facebook page — to “retaliate” against Woolsey, who was practicing his First Amendment rights when he posted the original video of Ojeda. It also alleges the phone call made by Ojeda to McCormick was a further act of retaliation, and therefore a violation of the First Amendment, according to precedents set by past court cases.
Last week, McCormick said Woolsey was fired after multiple violations of his company’s policies. John Bryan, a Union-based trial lawyer representing Woolsey, said McCormick told him the same thing, but that wrongful termination was not the focus of the lawsuit. Instead, he said, he wanted to focus on the limits he believes Ojeda placed on Woolsey’s political expression — “the heart of the First Amendment” — and the role of Facebook and social media when it comes to public officials and public forum.
The suit is calling for damages to be awarded to Woolsey for loss of compensation, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, attorney fees, punitive damages and anything else the court deems as fair.