A satellite installer signed an acknowledgement that he received the company's absence policy, which stated that an employee who fails to call in or show up for work for three days would be terminated. The installer was frustrated about not receiving a raise. He was at a customer's house to begin an installation. He picked up his ladder and a bucket of tools when he felt a "pinch" in his lower back. He reported the injury to the company. The company's doctor diagnosed him with a lumbar strain and released him to work with restrictions.
He returned to light-duty work and said that other workers began mocking his injury. The installer said that his supervisor complained that his injury created a negative financial impact on the department and disrupted its quota system. The supervisor also advised the workers' compensation carrier that the installer was upset about not getting a raise when he filed his claim. The carrier denied the claim. Within a week of the injury, the company transferred him to another department.
The next day, the supervisor told him that he would be terminated if he couldn't do satellite installations. The installer said he did not believe he could work as an installer without violating his restrictions and injuring himself further. The workers' compensation coordinator suggested he go on Family and Medical Leave Act leave. He went on leave. Three weeks after the expiration of his FMLA leave, the company terminated him for job abandonment. The company did not comply with its policy in notifying him of the expiration of his leave before it terminated him.
The installer sued the company, alleging that it terminated him in retaliation for his workers' compensation claim. Following trial, the jury found that the company retaliated against the installer. The company appealed.
Was the trial court correct in finding the installer's injury compensable?
A.No.The installer did not show that his workers' compensation claim was the sole motivation for his termination.
B.Yes.The installer showed a causal link between his workers' compensation claim and his termination.
C.No.The installer was not terminated close in time to his workers' compensation claim.
How the court ruled: B. The Texas Court of Appeals upheld the jury's decision finding that the company terminated the installer in retaliation for his workers' compensation claim. Echostar Satellite L.L.C. v. Aguilar, No. 08-10-00328-CV (Tex. Ct. App. 10/17/12).
The court pointed out that the supervisor had knowledge of his workers' compensation claim. Coworkers showed a negative attitude toward his condition. Also, the company deviated from its light-duty policy and its policy to notify him about the expiration of his leave before it terminated him. However, the court noted that the company's exercise of its right to challenge his workers' compensation claim was not evidence of a negative attitude.
A is incorrect. The court explained that it was not necessary for the installer to show that his workers' compensation claim was the sole motivation for his termination. He had to show a causal connection.
C is incorrect. The court said that the temporal proximity between the claim and his termination, a period of less than two months, favored the installer's argument.
Editor's note: This feature is not intended as instructional material or to replace legal advice.
January 22, 2013
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