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Cutting comp benefits of imprisoned worker ruled unlawful


A Pennsylvania court on Wednesday ordered Philadelphia Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Inc. to recalculate and reinstate workers compensation benefits for a worker who was in prison following his injury.

Carl Sadler injured his ankle in 2012 while working as a maintenance mechanic at the bottling company, a Philadelphia-based subsidiary of The Coca-Cola Co., where he worked full time for less than 13 weeks and often worked overtime. His injury included a back sprain and amputation of his pinky finger, resulting in disability calculated based on a 40-hour workweek, according to documents in Carl Sadler v. Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board (Philadelphia Coca-Cola), filed in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.

In 2013 he was incarcerated for 525 days until his release at trial in 2015, where he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served, according to documents. Details of his crime were not in the ruling.

In 2015 his employer filed a benefits suspension petition, “claiming that (his) benefits should be suspended because he spent 525 days in jail prior to his conviction and because he was credited with having served that time upon his conviction on January 22, 2015, (he) should not be unjustly enriched and his benefits should be adjusted accordingly,” documents state.

Mr. Sadler appealed to a workers compensation judge and later to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board on grounds that his benefits were miscalculated because the figure did not include frequent overtime and that state law provides that pretrial incarceration — incarceration because he could not afford bail — does not meet the “incarceration after conviction” stipulation allowing comp benefits to be withheld.

Both ruled in favor of Philadelphia Coca-Cola.

The board ruled that the claimant was “not credible” and concluded that Mr. Sadler “was hired to work a forty-hour work week with probable overtime during the busy season or 100 days of summer.” The judge further ruled that Mr. Sadler “actually worked on average (40 hours) during the short time he worked for the Employer prior to his injury,” according to documents.

Citing pay stubs in part as evidence and state law, the Commonwealth Court on Wednesday ordered a “remand for a recalculation of (benefits)” and, also citing state law, reversed “the suspension of (Mr. Sadler’s workers compensation) benefits.”

“We find merit in Claimant’s arguments,” Wednesday’s ruling states. “The credited testimony was that Claimant was expected to work overtime during the summer, which the WCJ did not consider in calculating Claimant’s (average weekly wage). Moreover, under the plain language of (state law), incarceration that occurs before a conviction, due to the inability to meet bail, is not a ‘period during which the employee is incarcerated after a conviction,’ and such an interpretation would be inconsistent with the fundamental principles underlying the (Workers’ Compensation) Act and its purpose.”

“I think this is a correct reading of (state law),” said the plaintiff’s attorney Richard Jaffe of the Law Offices of Richard A. Jaffe LLC in Philadelphia, speaking only on the workers compensation case. “My client was unable to post bail (and) we don’t know what he would have (been sentenced to) had he could have afforded bail,” he said, adding that there was no sentence given at trial — Mr. Sadler was released.

The company and its attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.