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DENVER— An employer did not violate the Family and Medical Leave Act or workers compensation laws when it fired an injured employee who was out on leave, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
In Peterson vs. Exide Technologies, Robert Peterson worked as a material handler at a Salina, Kan., plant for battery manufacturer Exide Technologies. He suffered head injuries in 2007 after he drove a forklift into a pole at the Exide facility, and the company placed him on a 10-day FMLA leave, according to court records.
Exide conducted an accident investigation that determined that Mr. Peterson was “going rather fast” at the time of his forklift accident, records show. The company also had given Mr. Peterson previous safety warnings, including one after a prior accident where he ran a forklift into a pole.
Exide fired Mr. Peterson four days after his accident because of his various violations of company safety policies, court records show.
Mr. Peterson sued the company, alleging that Exide retaliated against him in violation of federal FMLA laws. He also contended that Kansas workers comp law “prohibits employers from firing employees who are absent due to work-related injuries and who file or 'might file' a workers compensation claim,” records show.
In a unanimous ruling, the appeals court said Exide provided sufficient evidence—including previous performance reviews and warnings—that Mr. Peterson was fired for a history of safety errors, rather than retaliation for his work injury and FMLA claims.
“Particularly where, as here, the employee has a record of unsafe work performance, even a minor infraction could be the last straw,” the ruling reads. “Firing an employee based on a violation of company policies is not ‘transparently pretextual' as Plaintiff argues.”
Additionally, the court said Mr. Peterson failed to show that Exide retaliated against him under Kansas workers comp law, which requires a standard of “clear and convincing evidence” for a retaliation claim.