Coal company sued by man who gave up law school to join firm

Kelly Holleran Aug. 25, 2009, 7:50am

A Bond County man says he gave up an opportunity to attend law school and quit his anticipated position as a paralegal to accept a job paying $125,000 per year, only to be fired from the job four months after he was hired.

Thomas G. DeVore filed a lawsuit Aug. 18 in Madison County Circuit Court against Foresight Management, Montgomery Land Company, Bond Land Company, Colt, Roger A. Dennison Jr., John F. Dickinson II and James Morris.

DeVore claims he initially met with Morris in Highland on April 4, 2008, to discuss a prospective job opportunity with The Colt Group, which was looking for someone to negotiate with landowners and to acquire coal reserves, subsidence and surface land rights in Bond and Madison counties.

DeVore informed Morris of his intention to enter law school in the fall and of his anticipated employment, saying he would only be interested in working for The Colt Group through August 2008, according to the complaint.

But Morris told DeVore The Colt Group wanted a person who was willing to make a long-term commitment to the company because of its timeline for the development of its proposed mining projects, the suit states.

"Morris then proposed to DeVore an extended three-year employment relationship, and suggested that DeVore, if hired, would also be able to take over the project development tasks Dennison was currently performing in Montgomery County," the complaint says.

During a second meeting in Highland on April 24, at which DeVore, Morris, Dennison and Dickinson were present, all discussed DeVore's qualifications.

In addition, DeVore claims he told the others he was considering the job opportunity because the work would provide his family the financial flexibility to allow his wife, Katya, to return to school and earn her master's degree in nursing. In the meantime, DeVore planned to defer his plans to enter law school until after he completed his three-year commitment with The Colt Group, according to the complaint.

Also during the meeting, DeVore was informed that Dennison would be moving on to "bigger and better things" and that DeVore would take on Dennison's acquisition and development work in Montgomery County, the suit states.

As a condition of DeVore's employment with The Colt Group, he would be forced to stop engaging in land transactions on his own behalf, which he had been doing and earning about $50,000 annually, the complaint says.

Finally, DeVore claims he was hired on April 28, 2008, through Foresight with an annual salary of $125,000 per year.

After his hiring, DeVore informed Washburn University School of Law, where he had been accepted, that he would not be entering the incoming class of August 2008. He also resigned from his position with Certified Title and from a paralegal position, which would have provided him income and work experience during law school, according to the complaint.

"DeVore's wie, Katya, in further reliance upon his new employment, took great pains to get admitted (the admissions deadline had passed) and was admitted to the master's of nursing program at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville commencing in the Fall of 2008," the suit states.

On the first day of his new job, DeVore was informed that his main duty would be to sway the Bond County Board to sell that county's coal rights to Colt, the complaint says. The job duty, which was to be DeVore's primary focus, was never discussed during his meetings prior to his hiring, but DeVore attempted to do what was asked of him.

However, in July 2008, the Bond County Board rejected the purchase proposal and indicated it would not make a counter-proposal.

Meanwhile, DeVore claims he contacted Dennison many times to inquire as to his other duties in Montgomery County, which were discussed during the two prior meetings. But he was told to simply focus on the Bond County Board.

On Aug. 15, a mere 10 days after the Bond County Board stated its intent to not make a counter-proposal, DeVore met with Dennison and Tony Harris, controller for Hillsboro Energy. During the meeting, DeVore was told that Foresight and its affiliated companies intended to cease all activities in Madison and Bond counties because of their inability to purchase coal rights from Bond County. As a result, DeVore was told he would be terminated Sept. 1, according to the complaint.

Within weeks after DeVore's termination, The Colt Group hired Bill Holcomb to develop land rights in Montgomery County and to perform the scope of work promised to DeVore, despite the company's contention of changed circumstances, the suit states.

"The Defendants knew, but intentionally concealed from DeVore that the material purpose of hiring DeVore would be to use his personal relationships to influence the Bond County Board," the suit states. "Defendants never intended that DeVore's employment would continue if the purchase of coal rights from Bond County was rejected and knew that DeVore's continued employment would hinge on the approval of such transaction, which condition was never disclosed to DeVore at any point prior to his hiring or subsequent thereto."

In the four-count suit, DeVore is seeking compensatory damage of more than $200,000 and unspecified exemplary and punitive damages, plus costs, attorney's fees and other relief the court deems just.

He will be represented by Kevin M. Hazlett and Keith Short of Hazlett and Short in Shiloh.

Madison County Circuit Court case number: 09-L-864.

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