Former employee drops Bible lawsuit in Chesapeake
CHESAPEAKE, Jan 05, 2013 (The Virginian-Pilot - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A lawsuit filed by a former employee of the Chesapeake Treasurer's Office who claimed he was wrongly fired in 2011 for refusing to take his Bible off his desk has been dismissed.
Attorneys for Treasurer Barbara Carraway asked last month for the lawsuit to be dismissed, and Kenneth Wayne Biernot eventually agreed. If Biernot wants, however, he is allowed to refile the lawsuit, according to a stipulation of dismissal filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Norfolk.
Biernot's attorney, Steven C. Taylor, agreed to the dismissal after Carraway's attorney argued in court papers that the U.S. Constitution bars citizens from suing state constitutional officers such as his client. The attorney, S. Lawrence Dumville, claimed sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment.
The city of Chesapeake was previously dismissed from the lawsuit after it became clear Carraway and her staff were not city employees, City Attorney Ronald Hallman said.
While the lawsuit's dismissal hinged on a technicality, Dumville said his client did nothing wrong and would have won if the case had gone to trial. He admitted a member of Carraway's staff told Biernot he could not have a Bible on top of his desk but denied that anyone told him he couldn't bring it to work.
"He was not told he could not bring the Bible to work. He was not told he could not have it in his desk. He was told he just could not keep it on his desk," said Dumville. He noted that Biernot's desk also served as the office's front counter, where the public came to pay their taxes.
"I am not 'anti-Bible,' " said Carraway, adding that she is a member of Great Bridge Baptist Church who attends Bible study every Sunday. "My policy is that all nonrelated work items, including books, periodicals and magazines should not be visible on their desks.... There was no work-related reason for Mr. Biernot to have a Bible on his desk; and it could be misconstrued that my office favored one religion over another."
Dumville added that Biernot was not fired because of his Bible, but because he left "on the busiest day of the year and never returned." The city's personal property taxes were due that day.
Taylor and Biernot could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit stemmed from a June 6, 2011, incident between Biernot and his immediate supervisor.
According to the lawsuit, Biernot, who worked at the office's front counter for about five months before he was fired, had a copy of the New Testament on his desk that morning. He said he read it on his breaks.
During a conversation at his desk, the supervisor told Biernot to move the Bible. When he protested, the supervisor told him to move it or resign, the suit said.
The lawsuit said Carraway told Biernot that it was against city policy to have a Bible on city property.
He chose to clock out and go home, the suit said.
The lawsuit claims a deputy treasurer contacted Biernot twice later in the day and requested he return to work.
Each time, however, he was told not to bring his Bible, the lawsuit said.
While working for the city, Biernot studied psychology at Liberty University. In August, he said had completed his studies and had taken a job with Tidewater Youth Services.
Scott Daugherty, 757-222-5221, email@example.com
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