California workers’ compensation can often make us sad, but there’s so much reason to rejoice, especially when, on those rare occasions, the stars align, the tea leaves land in just the right way and just for a split second, the world makes sense again.
What brings about this irrationally optimistic mood? Well, recently the Court of Appeal (4th Appellate District, unpublished) ruled in the case of Kennedy v. MUFG Union Bank that a voluntary resignation as part of a workers’ compensation settlement warranted summary judgment in her civil claim alleging wrongful termination.
The unpublished decisions (unpublished opinions in California are like bus tours without windows: no cites — that is, no citing on unpublished opinions) held that evidence of a voluntary resignation letter “was sufficient to negate any claims premised upon the existence of a termination, as it showed that plaintiff was not terminated and instead voluntarily resigned her employment with Union Bank.”
So, while we are now precluded from enforcing contracts that agree that there will not be any rehiring, the resignation letter still holds to negate any civil claims predicated upon a theory that requires a termination.
Hypothetical: Employer terminates the worker on a basis that would otherwise give rise to a civil suit. Employee pursues a civil suit for the termination while also pursuing a workers’ compensation claim. Employee settles the workers’ compensation claim with a voluntary resignation letter while the civil suit is still in its discovery stage. Does the voluntary resignation now negate the civil suit? Does it matter if the voluntary resignation was signed after the alleged wrongful termination?
In Kennedy, the applicant’s position was eliminated, and she signed a resignation letter as part of her compromise and release after that fact. If Kennedy is offering guidance, then it looks like a voluntary resignation in a workers’ compensation claim is fatal to a civil claim based on a theory of wrongful termination.
Even if no civil suit is pending, perhaps it is worthwhile to explore an injured worker’s willingness to sign a resignation letter and for the parties to go their separate ways, if for no other reason to nip any potential claims in the bud.
Now, hopefully, we will see Kennedy published before too long, because common sense reasoning merits attention and authority.
Gregory Grinberg is a workers' compensation defense attorney at the Law Office of Gregory Grinberg, based in the San Francisco Bay Area. This post is reprinted with permission from Grinberg's WCDefenseCA blog.
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