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Dillard's appeals invalidation of Oklahoma's workers compensation opt-out law

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Dillard's Inc. has appealed the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission's ruling that the state's law allowing certain employers to opt out of workers comp by providing alternative benefits for injured employees is unconstitutional.

The Little Rock, Arkansas-based retailer appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on Thursday, seeking an order that would vacate the commission's unanimous decision in February in Jonnie Yvonne Vasquez v. Dillard's Inc..

The commission found that Oklahoma's Employee Injury Benefit Act is a special law that denied equal protection to Ms. Vasquez and deprived her of access to the courts. Ms. Vasquez aggravated a pre-existing spine injury while working at a Shawnee, Oklahoma, Dillard's store and unsuccessfully sought benefits.

Ms. Vasquez submitted two claims to Dillard's for benefits and additional medical treatment, but both claims were denied because they were for a pre-existing condition rather than an “injury” as defined by Dillard's injury benefit plan, according to records.

However, Dillard's is one of about 60 Oklahoma employers that have opted out of the state's workers comp system since February 2014, according to the Oklahoma Insurance Department's website. Other employers that have opted out of the state's comp system include Big Lots Inc. and Swift Transportation Inc.

“Because a finding of unconstitutionality affects all qualified employers under the option,” the retailer's appeal questions “whether the commission erred in concluding it had jurisdiction to rule on a facial challenge to the constitutionality of the option cloaked as an applied challenge.”

Dillard's also is seeking a declaration that the commission “did not have jurisdiction to strike down the status as unconstitutional,” the retailer said in its appeal.