Alabama Supreme Court Affirms Retaliatory Discharge Bench Verdict in Favor of Employee
Ex parte Ray Keith Wood:
On Friday October 29, 2010, the Supreme Court of Alabama handed down a decision concerning retaliatory discharge in a workers’ compensation claim.
The employee suffered an injury to his left forearm. He had surgery in May 2000, and was returned to work on June 12, 2000. The employee left work early on three occasions in June to undergo physical therapy. The employer created two written warnings for these occasions, but neither written warning was given to the employee.
The employee came to work on June 20, 2000, and told his employer that he needed to see his doctor again. He was referred to the human resources manager, who told him that she did not have time to deal with him at that moment. The employee muttered a derogatory comment that included an expletive; which was witnessed by two co-employees. The employee left work at 8:00 a.m. and was overheard by a supervisor saying that he was leaving before he slapped the human resources manager and that if she did not want to talk to him that he would go home. The human resources manager informed the plant manager that the employee had left without permission.
The employee was fired and he filed a retaliatory discharge claim in addition to his workers’ compensation claim. The workers’ compensation claim was settled but the retaliatory discharge claim went to trial. The trial court (sitting without a jury) found that the employee had made a prima facie case of retaliatory discharge and that the reason the employer gave for firing him was pretextual. The trial court entered a judgment in favor of the employee. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals reversed the ruling of the trial court and remanded the case with instructions for the trial court to enter a judgment in the employer’s favor. This ruling was appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court.
The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. At trial, the plant manager (who had fired the employee), testified that the employee was fired for his use of foul language and for leaving work early, without permission (both of which were violations of company policy). The human resources manager however, testified that the employee had been fired solely because he left work early without permission. The employee testified that no mention had been made of his inappropriate conduct at the time he was fired. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the trial court had been presented with enough evidence to conclude that the reason given for firing the employee was pretextual and that the true reason for his firing was retaliation for the employee’s workers’ compensation claim.