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Injured department store worker at heart of case that overturned state's comp opt-out law


The Oklahoma Employee Injury Benefit Act is unconstitutional because it allows injured workers under the “opt-out act” to be treated differently than workers covered by traditional workers compensation plans, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision last month.

In Jonnie Yvonne Vasquez v. Dillard’s Inc., Ms. Vasquez aggravated a pre-existing spine injury in 2014 while working at a Dillard’s store in Shawnee, Oklahoma, court filings show.

Ms. Vasquez submitted two claims to Little Rock, Arkansas-based Dillard’s for benefits, but both claims were denied because they were for a pre-existing condition rather than for an “injury” as defined by Dillard’s alternative injury benefit plan in Oklahoma, according to court records.

Ms. Vasquez appealed to the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission, which ruled that Oklahoma’s opt-out law was unconstitutional partly because it denied equal protection to Oklahoma’s injured workers and denied injured workers their right of access to courts. Dillard’s appealed.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Vasquez said the Oklahoma opt-out law allowed Dillard’s and other employers to provide “impermissible, unequal, and disparate treatment of a select group of injured workers” compared with standard workers comp policies.

However, the dissenting opinion said the high court ruling “provided no guidance for employees, or their employers, as to where a cause of action should be pursued if the Opt Out Act ceases to exist.”

Ms. Vasquez’s case was remanded to the Oklahoma comp commission for further consideration of her injury benefit claims.