A Pennsylvania woman who lost her job at a West Virginia coal mine in May is suing her former employer, Murray Energy, claiming she was unlawfully fired for refusing to give money to political campaigns supported by the company CEO.
First reported by Ken Ward Jr. at the Charleston Gazette, the lawsuit claims that Jean F. Cochenour was fired from her job as a foreman at the Marion County Mine because of her “failure to donate” to political candidates preferred by company founder Robert Murray. Murray is notorious for inserting himself in political fights over coal regulation, most recently accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of lying about the existence of global warming.
In the same vein, Murray allegedly sent letters to employees at the Marion County Mine, asking them to support pro-coal candidates for political office. The lawsuit claims Murray would keep track of who made the requested contributions, and who didn’t. This practice was known to the mine’s employees, the suit says, citing “at least one manager” who told Cochenour that failing to contribute could impact her job. The allegations echo a 2012 investigative piece from the New Republic’s Alec MacGillis, which stated that Murray has “for years pressured salaried employees to give to the Murray Energy political action committee (PAC) and to Republican candidates chosen by the company.”
In Cochenour’s case, she says Murray began to hold a personal meetings with employees after becoming “concerned that too many of his management employees were not contributing to Mr. Murray’s political candidates of choice.” At her one-on-one meeting, Murray allegedly “screamed at and then fired [her] even though she had done nothing wrong in her work.”
The lawsuit never claims that Murray said anything specifically about her gender (the lawsuit also claims she was fired for being the only female foreman at the plant) or her failure to make political donations — rather, it says she was fired for “pretextual” offenses like allowing employees to work overtime on a Saturday.
In a statement to ThinkProgress, a Murray Energy spokesperson called the lawsuit “baseless,” and said it was “an attempt to extort money from Murray Energy Corporation.”
“Their statements are blatantly false and totally concocted,” the statement reads. “Indeed, Ms. Cochenour was fired because she failed to perform her job adequately. Undoubtedly, her lack of management cost Murray Energy Corporation hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
As for why Murray sends letters to its employees asking for donations to political campaigns, the spokesman said they are the CEO’s “personal fundraisers” that are “merely an attempt to support the coal industry and to save the jobs in it from the ongoing destruction of them.” Cochenour’s claims that Murray knows which of his employees donates and who doesn’t are “totally fabricated,” the spokesperson said, a fact that Murray has “repeatedly stated.”
The lawsuit alleges Murray has a “long history” of requiring his managers to donate to his Political Action Committee, which has so far spent $351,408 in the 2014 election cycle. The PAC has so far only donated to Republican candidates this cycle.
Murray workers have also in the past complained about being forced to attend campaign events without pay.
Conchenour apparently did not keep copies of the letters she received before she was fired asking for donations to candidates. She did, however, keep one that she received from Murray afterwards — attached to the bottom of the lawsuit, found here. The candidates Murray asks her to contribute to are all Republican candidates for U.S. Senate: Scott Brown from New Hampshire, Ed Gillespie from Virginia, Terri Lynn Land from Michigan, and Mike McFadden from Minnesota.
Spokespeople for Brown, Gillespie, Land, and McFadden did not return ThinkProgress’ request for comment on their relationship with Murray or whether they were aware that the company may be sending letters to its employees on their behalf. Murray’s PAC has so far donated $5,000 to each candidate.