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On March 1, 2019, the Alabama Supreme Court issued its opinion regarding the largest retaliatory discharge jury verdict ever recorded in Alabama. Notable facts from the underlying case are as follows:
The employee had a compensable workers’ compensation accident.
The authorized doctor assigned work restrictions that could not be accommodated.
The employee was on workers’ compensation leave for 4.5 months.
He received TTD during that time period.
While he was out, the employer hired another driver to replace him.
When the employee attempted to return to work, he was told that he was no longer needed.
The employer admitted that it did not follow its own return to work policies when it terminated the employee without making an effort at finding another position for him.
The employer was actively looking for drivers during the same time period that the employee was terminated.
Another employee was terminated for the same reason when he attempted to return to work.
In an e-mail, the employer admitted to improperly terminating both employees.
The employee was allowed to claim lost future earnings even though he was earning more with a new employer at the time of trial. This was because he was able to demonstrate that his higher earnings were due to his working longer hours (936 more hours per year) as opposed to his earning equal or higher wages.
At the close of the evidence, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in the employee’s favor in the amount of $1,259,451.52 (comprised of $314,862.88 in compensatory damages and $944,588.64 in punitive damages).
On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the judgment.
My Two Cents
Employees are certainly not insulated from termination simply because they have filed a workers’ compensation claim. However, employers should proceed with a high degree of caution when considering the termination of a claimant. At a bare minimum, all applicable handbooks/policies should be thoroughly reviewed and an attorney that is well versed in such matters should be consulted.
About the Author
This blog submission was prepared by Mike Fish, an attorney with Fish Nelson & Holden, LLC, a law firm dedicated to representing self-insured employers, insurance carriers, and third party administrators in all matters related to workers’ compensation. Fish Nelson & Holden is a member of the National Workers’ Compensation Defense Network. If you have any questions about this submission or Alabama workers’ compensation in general, please contact Fish by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling him directly at 205-332-1448.