As with many statutes that protect employees, if an employer acts against you for exercising your rights under one of those statutes, that could be unlawful retaliation. These types of cases can be particularly difficult to prove because the law in Alabama presents a significant hurdle for employees to overcome. Let our Birmingham employment attorneys explain this burden and provide a real example of Workers’ Compensation retaliation.
The Law in Alabama on Workers’ Compensation Retaliation
In our state, the employer’s articulated reason for the termination is considered by the courts to be sufficient as a matter of law, when the facts are undisputed and there is no substantial evidence of any of the following: that the stated basis has been applied in a discriminatory manner to employees who have filed workers’ compensation claims; that the stated basis conflicts with express company policy on grounds for discharge, OR, that the employer has disavowed the stated reason or has otherwise acknowledged its pretextual status.
Cristainv. Hunter Buildings Manufacturing
According to the lawsuit, Luis Cristain was injured at work when he fell from scaffolding. He filed a Workers’ Compensation claim in order to receive benefits for his injury. Shortly after, he was transferred to a newly created position under the supervision of Kevin Edmonds, a supervisor who allegedly was already scrutinizing Cristain’s performance. Cristain had no training or experience to perform the new job to which he was assigned and soon began receiving warnings regarding his performance.
Additionally, the supervisor, Edmonds, began investigating the scaffolding incident and determined that Cristain was at fault for his own injuries. Two weeks after Cristain was injured, he was called into a meeting with Edmonds and terminated.
Trial Court Dismissed the Workers’ Compensation Claim at Trial
At the end of the trial, the court dismissed Cristain’s Workers’ Compensation retaliation claim based on the evidence presented at trial. The Fifth Circuit, on appeal, reversed the dismissal of the claim finding that, among other things, the proximity between the Workers’ Compensation injury and the termination (two weeks) as a “stark temporal proximity.”
Furthermore, the court found that the employer did not follow its own internal procedures when it wrote Cristain up for alleged performance issues and, instead, skipped steps in the progressive discipline policy. There was also evidence that several other employees were terminated shortly after suffering workplace injuries. In fact, two were terminated within 30 days of their injuries and four were terminated within 90 days of their injuries. Finally, the employer’s reasons for Cristain’s termination changed over time. Considering all of these facts, the court found there was “considerable” evidence supporting Cristain’s claim.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Wrady Michel & King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!