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PORTLAND, Maine—A workers compensation claimant cannot sue an employer that contracted with an employment agency for his labor, Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court has ruled in a 4-3 decision.
The case of involves petitions Mr. Doughty filed alleging he was fired for exercising his rights under Maine’s workers compensation law.
Work Opportunities hired Mr. Doughty in 2008 and assigned him to work at a Poland Spring bottling facility. Work Opportunities paid Mr. Doughty’s salary, and Poland Spring paid the employment agency a fee for his services, court records show.
That same year, Mr. Doughty fell while on the job and hit his head.
Among other post-accident events, Work Opportunities scheduled appointments for Mr. Doughty to visit its medical provider, but Mr. Doughty missed several appointments and did not return telephone calls.
The employment agency eventually determined that he no longer was eligible for its assignments.
In November 2008, Mr. Doughty filed a petition against Work Opportunities seeking a workers comp “award and to remedy discrimination,” the court opinion states. Two months later he filed a similar complaint against Poland Spring.
A workers comp hearing officer determined that Work Opportunities had not discriminated against Mr. Doughty for asserting his workers comp rights.
The hearing officer granted Mr. Doughty a temporary benefits award to be paid by Work Opportunities, but also determined that he was employed by Work Opportunities and not by Poland Spring. The hearing officer decided that Maine’s workers comp law does not allow a temporary worker employed by an insured employment agency to sue an employment agency’s client for discrimination when a “contract for hire” agreement does not exist.
On appeal before Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court, Mr. Doughty contended that the hearing officer erred by denying his petition to remedy alleged discrimination by Poland Spring. Mr. Doughty argued that that he was employed by Work Opportunities and Poland Spring.
But the state high court majority ruled Wednesday that an employee hired by an employment agency and injured while working for the agency’s client does not have a right of action for discrimination against the client company when the employee does not have a contract for hire with the client company.
Three justices dissented, however, saying that the majority created a separate class of workers with fewer rights when hired through a staffing company.