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Workers fail to prove retaliation for filing claims


Two women injured on the job failed to show they were terminated in retaliation for seeking workers compensation.

In LaRochelle v. Wilmac Corp., a judge from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court’s decision on Monday in favor of the women’s employer.

Emilia Shearer and Sandra Riker worked for York, Pennsylvania-based Wilmac Corp., which owns several assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.

During a shift in September 2011, Ms. Shearer said she fell while assisting a resident. Later that day she was accused of yelling at a resident in violation of the company’s resident abuse policy, and was suspended pending investigation of the alleged violation. She provided a statement regarding the incident and then reported that she had fallen and sustained an injury during her shift. She was instructed to fill out an incident report and see the company’s workers compensation physicians, where she was diagnosed with various sprains and strains and put on light duty. However, she was terminated for resident abuse.

She claimed that her termination was in retaliation for her protected activity of reporting a workplace injury. A bench trial court granted summary judgment to her employer. The court noted that wrongful discharge claims based on filing workers compensation claims require both reporting the injury to the employer and expressing an intent to file a workers comp claim, and that although Ms. Shearer reported her injury and filled out an incident report, it did not show that she expressed her intent to file a workers comp claim. She appealed the decision, but the 3rd Circuit affirmed the ruling, holding that the district court did not err in its determination that she presented no evidence that she notified her employer of the intent to file a claim and that summary judgment for the employer was warranted.

Although Ms. Shearer argued that the district court erred in entering judgment in favor of her employer because she established a causal connection between her protected activity and her termination, the appellate court held that even if the timing of her termination was suspicious, the district court had sufficient evidence to find that Ms. Shearer failed to demonstrate that she was terminated because she sought accommodations for her injury. The appellate court judge also said there was no evidence that the decision to fire her was influenced by her visit to the workers compensation doctor or need to perform light duty work.

The court also affirmed the district court’s ruling in favor of Wilmac on Ms. Riker’s claims. Ms. Riker, who worked as a certified nursing assistant, sought workers compensation in 2011 for two injuries she claimed were work-related. In January 2012, she said she was told she could return to work if she performed light duty with work restrictions but claimed that the human resources director told her that the company would not accommodate her non-work-related injuries. She subsequently filed for unemployment compensation, and in February 2013, signed a workers compensation court-approved compromise and release agreement to fully settle all claims for injuries sustained during her employment. On the same day she resigned.

She then filed a complaint alleging that he employer retaliated against her for reporting sexual harassment and seeking work-related injury accommodations and wrongfully discharged her for the protected activity of filing a workers comp claim. A district court dismissed her claims and she appealed.

The appellate court affirmed the district court’s decision, holding that the court did not err in finding that Ms. Riker failed to show that the company terminated her or took any adverse action against her for reporting an injury, noting that she voluntarily resigned.

Wilmac did not immediately respond to a request for comment.





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