EMPLOYER WINS RETALIATORY DISCHARGE CLAIM ON APPEAL
Black Creek, Inc. v. Ray Keith Wood:
On March 12, 2010, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals released this opinion wherein it reversed a denial of a motion for a judgment as a matter of law (JML) from the Circuit Court of Etowah County and remanded the case for the trial court to enter a JML in favor of the employer.
In February of 2000, the employee pulled a muscle loose from his left arm while working as a machinist for the employer. The injury needed surgery and, after determining that it was work related, the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance carrier authorized the surgery. The surgery was performed on May 5, 2000. On June 8, 2000 the doctor that performed the surgery released the employee to light duty work.
On June 12, 2000 the employee returned to work, but during that week his work was sporadic with his time card showing he left work early three days to attend physical therapy. The employer had a policy that required employees to attempt to schedule their doctor and physical therapy appointments either before or after work and to notify their supervisor if those arrangements could not be made. Due to his failure to report his absences and use of foul language to his supervisor the employee was issued several disciplinary warnings. On June 20, 2000, the employee became upset with his supervisor, used foul language in the presence of other employees, and left the job.
In August of 2000, the employee filed a workers’ compensation claim and also a retaliatory discharge claim. The two claims were severed and the workers’ compensation claim was eventually settled. After a trial in December of 2007, the trial court entered judgment in favor of the employee and awarded $50,000 in damages. The employer moved for JML at the close of the employee’s evidence and also at the close of the trial and both were denied. The employer appealed.
The Court of Appeals concluded that the employer had a legitimate reason for discharging the employee and that the trial court erred in not granting the motion JML. The case was remanded to the trial court with instructions to enter JML for the employer.