Not a Member?  Become One Today!

 
Texas: No Retaliatory Discharge for Filing Comp Claim
 

By Susan R. Heylman  4/28/2014
 

An employee’s claim for retaliatory discharge for filing a workers’ compensation claim failed because his dismissal was the result of the routine application of the company’s leave of absence policy for Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave, a Texas appellate court ruled.

The employee was a route manager who delivered propane to commercial and residential customers. He suffered an injury to his back while lifting a 60-pound propane container onto a forklift, and his doctor placed him on restricted duty with instructions for follow-up visits. Because there was no light duty work available, the employee took FMLA leave, starting on Jan. 5, 2010. During his leave, the employer kept his position open and paid him workers’ compensation benefits.

On April 7, the company terminated the employee because his FMLA leave had exceeded the maximum 12-week leave granted to employees under the company’s leave of absence policy. The employee sued, alleging that his termination constituted retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the employer and dismissed the claim. The employee appealed.

In affirming the summary judgment, the appeals court concluded that the employer had presented sufficient evidence that it terminated the employee because his absence from work exceeded the number of weeks allowed under its neutral leave of absence policy. That evidence included the employee handbook, which included the company’s leave of absence policy, and related testimony.

The company’s senior human resources generalist testified that under the policy, an employee could take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave within the calendar year for any family and medical leave to which he was entitled by law. She explained that the company leave policy was a neutral policy because it applied to absences regardless of whether the absence was related to a workers’ compensation claim or for other matters that might qualify for leave under the company’s policies.

The generalist testified that the employee was on leave for an injury, his leave exceeded the 12 weeks allowed under the policy, and that he was separated because of this violation. She added that he was not the only employee terminated for exceeding the leave policy, as six other employees were terminated about the same time for absences in excess of 12 weeks.

On the other hand, the employee did not present any evidence of why he was terminated other than the reason set out in the letter. He stated that he knew of no reason why the leave policy should not apply to him, and did not identify any specific facts to demonstrate that the employer did not uniformly apply the leave of absence policy.

Accordingly, the court found that the employee did not carry his burden to produce evidence controverting that of the employer.

Kinabrew v. Inergy Propane LLC, Texas Ct. App., No. 05-12-01102-CV (March 10, 2014).

Susan R. Heylman, J.D., is a freelance legal writer and editor based in the Washington, D.C., area.

Copyright Image Obtain reuse/copying permission


Sections