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Post-injury retirement is not 'abandonment of employment': Court


COLUMBUS, Ohio—An AT&T Technologies Inc. employee is eligible for workers compensation benefits because her retirement did not amount to an “abandonment of employment,” an Ohio appellate court ruled.

Thursday's finding in AT&T Technologies Inc. vs. The Industrial Commission of Ohio upheld a hearing officer's ruling in the claim of an AT&T employee of 35 years who slipped and fell on an ice-covered dock in February 2008.

Deborah Warner injured her left shoulder, underwent surgery and received temporary total disability compensation, the court ruling states.

Less than a month before the accident, Ms. Warner had signed a form making herself a potential candidate for participation in an AT&T buyout program. Under the program, “nonsurplus employees” voluntarily terminate their employment in exchange for a buyout payment.

The form Ms. Warner signed stated she was not obligated to accept a buyout offer should AT&T make one.

In 2010, a district hearing officer heard Ms. Warner's request for TTD benefits. During the hearing, the Ms. Warner testified that she had accepted the buyout offer and left work at AT&T because of her shoulder injury and her inability to conduct her former job.

The DHO denied her claim, concluding that the claimant had abandoned the workforce.

On appeal, however, a staff hearing officer reversed, finding that the claimant's buyout acceptance was not voluntary but was prompted by her injury. The Industrial Commission of Ohio then “refused” further appeal, court documents show.

On appeal to Ohio’s 10th Appellate District Court, the employer argued among other things that temporary total disability benefits are barred because the claimant voluntarily retired from her employment.

The appellate court found unanimously, however, that it agreed with the staff hearing officer’s ruling that the claimant had not voluntarily abandoned her employment.

The court, therefore, denied the employer’s request to vacate the finding favoring the claimant.