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Two former defense contract workers can proceed in part with their lawsuit against their employer, who allegedly terminated them after one filed and another assisted with a workers compensation claim, the U.S. District Appeals Court for the District of Columbia ruled Friday.
In 2010, David Sickle and Matthew Elliott were working in Baghdad, Iraq, for Falls Church, Virginia-based Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions L.L.C. when Mr. Elliott, who assisted with a military base’s canine unit, injured his back while stacking sandbags, according to documents filed in David Sickle and Matthew W. Elliott v. Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions L.L.C. and Scott Torres.
Mr. Sickle, a base medic, treated his colleague several times and urged him to seek treatment in the United States, which he eventually did. Upon his arrival in the United States, Mr. Elliott filed a workers compensation claim and subsequently, with Mr. Sickle’s help, sought effective treatment for what the medic diagnosed as a herniated disc. Mr. Elliott was fired one week before he was to return to the base in Iraq to fulfill his contract obligation with Torres. This was outside of the contracted 30-day notice of termination, according to documents.
Mr. Sickle, who remained overseas and resigned another year contract, faced this situation: “Torres Solutions’ affiliates began to ‘threaten and intimidate’ him, insisting that he recant his support for Elliott’s workers’ compensation claim,” court records states. When he refused to recant his statements on Mr. Elliott’s injury, “(company founder) Scott Torres sent him home for thirty days to ‘think things over.’…When Sickle stuck to his guns, Torres Solutions terminated Sickle’s contract” outside of the contractual 30-day notice, court records state.
Both men filed a lawsuit against Torres for breach of contract and common-law torts. The appeals court, which affirmed some parts of an earlier court’s decision, ruled that the Defense Base Act, which protects civilian defense contract workers injured on the job, “pre-empts (Mr.) Elliott’s tort claims because they derive from his efforts to obtain Defense Base Act benefits. The Act, however, does not pre-empt (Mr.) Sickle’s claims or (Mr.) Elliott’s contract claim because those injuries arose independently of any claim for workers compensation benefits,” the ruling states.
A spokesperson for Torres declined to comment.
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