Worker fails to show he was 'set up' and fired for filing claim
Case name: Harbolt v. Steel of West Virginia, Inc., No. 3:07-0661 (S.D. W.Va. 06/15/09).
The U.S. District Court, Southern District of West Virginia granted summary judgment to the employer on a former laborer's claim that he was subjected to retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim.
What it means: An employee's retaliation claim will likely falter where he does not present evidence that links his workers' compensation claim with his termination and he fails to present evidence that filing the claim was a significant factor in the employer's decision to terminate him.
A steel mill worker was injured when he slipped and fell while working. He was taken off of work. Before the worker returned to light-duty work, another employee told management the worker had sold him prescription pain pills. On the day of his return, management made him empty his pockets, searched his locker, and searched his vehicle. The vehicle contained two different prescriptions "in quantities in excess of what [he] had been prescribed to take on a daily basis." He claimed he was "set up" in an attempt to discontinue his benefits. He argued the employer never meant to give him light-duty work but rather planned to immediately terminate his workers' compensation benefits for filing a claim. The employer argued he failed to produce evidence of a link between filing the claim and the decision to discharge him. The District Court agreed, pointing out that the worker was fired for allegedly selling drugs at the workplace.
The court pointed out that during the investigation two other workers who had not filed workers' compensation claims were accused of selling drugs and were terminated. It also noted that even though the worker argued that proximity in time between his claim for benefits and his termination was relatively short, this was insufficient to show the filing of the claim was a significant factor in the decision to terminate him.
July 13, 2009
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