Worker's continuous poor performance, not retaliation, triggers termination
Williams v. AT&T, et al., No. H-07-0559 (S.D. Tex. 04/06/09).
Ruling: The U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas granted summary judgment to the employer in a former employee's workers' compensation retaliation lawsuit.
What it means: An employee who files a workers' compensation claim is not immune from being fired where there is evidence that he continuously performed poorly on the job, violated company policies and procedures, and committed other company infractions that resulted in disciplinary action.
Summary: A telecommunications technician alleged he sprained his leg stepping down from a ladder on the job. However, he provided his employer and the insurance adjuster with several dates of injury. The employer argued the technician provided conflicting evidence as to when he was injured and when he reported the injury to his employer and the insurance carrier.
A month after the alleged accident, the technician violated a company policy and was suspended. He was terminated during the suspension for the violation, which was considered serious. Although the technician's workers' compensation claim was denied, he alleged he was terminated in retaliation for filing the claim. He sued his employer for retaliation in violation of the Texas Workers' Compensation Act.
The employer presented evidence that the technician had a history of poor performance and excessive disciplinary actions dating back more than a year before his workers' compensation claim. The court rejected the technician's claim of a causal link between his workers' compensation claim and his termination even though he was suspended only four days after filing his claim. The court explained that an employer's knowledge of a workers' compensation claim alone is insufficient. "The employer's knowledge merely places the employee in the class protected by the statute," the court said. The court pointed out the technician had a history of poor work performance and warnings about his potential termination before he filed his claim. The District Court granted summary judgment to the employer.
June 1, 2009
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