Issues collateral to WC claims fall under commission's jurisdiction
Case name: Beard v. Cumberland County Hospital System, Inc., et al., No. COA09-1043 (N.C. Ct. App. 05/18/10).
Ruling: The North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of an employee's suit against her employer for allegedly violating the state's Retaliatory Discrimination Employment Act. The court lacked jurisdiction over the employee's claims because they were related to her workers' compensation cases and were therefore within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Industrial Commission.
What it means: The North Carolina Industrial Commission has exclusive jurisdiction over workers' compensation claims and all ancillary matters, including the medical treatment the claimant receives for work-related injuries, and the employer's return-to-work decisions.
Summary: A housekeeping assistant suffered a series of work-related injuries between February and August 2007. The employer accepted all but one of the claims. A year after she filed the last workers' compensation claim, she also filed an employment discrimination complaint against the employer. She claimed that it retaliated against her by refusing to allow her to be treated by her preferred neurosurgeon and by refusing to allow her to return to work in a light-duty position.
The trial court dismissed the suit, finding that the issues she raised were exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Industrial Commission. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's decision.
The court first explained that the dispute over which physician should treat her injuries was "in no way connected to the 'terms, conditions, privileges, and benefits of [Plaintiff's] employment.'" As a result, there was no retaliatory action against her employment. Similarly, the REDA does not require that employers make reasonable accommodations, unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act. If the employer did not have a position for the claimant, no adverse employment action occurred.
The court agreed with the employer that the claimant's suit was the equivalent of a "collateral review of matters related to pending workers' compensation claims," which fell within the exclusive jurisdiction on the Industrial Commission.
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
July 26, 2010
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