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Fish: High Court Upholds Record-Setting Retaliatory Discharge Verdict

  • State: Alabama

On March 1, the Alabama Supreme Court issued its opinion regarding the largest retaliatory discharge jury verdict ever recorded in the state.

Mike Fish

Mike Fish

Notable facts from the underlying case are as follows:

  • The employee had a compensable workers’ compensation accident.
  • The authorized doctor assigned work restrictions that could not be accommodated. 
  • The employee was on workers’ compensation leave for four and a half months. 
  • He received temporary total disability during that time period. 
  • While he was out, the employer hired another driver to replace him. 
  • When the employee attempted to return to work, he was told that he was no longer needed. 
  • The employer admitted that it did not follow its own return-to-work policies when it terminated the employee without making an effort at finding another position for him. 
  • The employer was actively looking for drivers during the same time period that the employee was terminated. 
  • Another employee was terminated for the same reason when he attempted to return to work. 
  • In an email, the employer admitted to improperly terminating both employees. 

The employee was allowed to claim lost future earnings even though he was earning more with a new employer at the time of trial. This was because he was able to demonstrate that his higher earnings were due to his working longer hours (936 more per year) as opposed to his earning equal or higher wages.

At the close of the evidence, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in the employee’s favor in the amount of $1,259,451.52 (comprising $314,862.88 in compensatory damages and $944,588.64 in punitive damages).

On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the judgment.

My 2 cents

Employees are certainly not insulated from termination simply because they have filed a workers’ compensation claim. However, employers should proceed with a high degree of caution when considering the termination of a claimant.

At a bare minimum, all applicable handbooks/policies should be thoroughly reviewed, and an attorney who is well versed in such matters should be consulted.

Mike Fish is an attorney with Fish Nelson & Holden LLC, headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama. This entry is republished, with permission, from the firm's Alabama Workers' Comp Blawg.

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