Appeals Court Revives Wrongful Termination Case Brought by California Worker Fired After Suffering Workplace Injury

A worker who was fired shortly after he was injured on the job and filed for workers’ compensation won a victory recently when the California Court of Appeal reversed a trial court’s decision to award summary judgment to his employer. The court decided that, based upon the type of claim the employee made, the trial court should have analyzed the timeliness of his lawsuit using a two-year time period, not a one-year period.

The origin of the dispute between Adam Prue and his employer, Brady Company/San Diego, Inc., started with a workplace injury Prue suffered in June 2011. Based upon this injury, Prue made it known that he intended to file a workers’ compensation claim. Brady terminated Prue the next month. Prue sued his employer, alleging wrongful termination. The employee claimed that his employer terminated him because he suffered a disabling injury at work. Terminating him as Brady did violated the state’s public policy against discriminating against workers with disabilities, as demonstrated by the Fair Employment and Housing Act, Prue argued in his lawsuit.

The employer asked the trial court to grant summary judgment in its favor, and the court agreed. The employee did not sue the employer in this case until April 2013, 21 months after the termination. The trial court concluded that this was after the time period for filing had expired, since the FEHA imposes a one-year limitation on filing.

Prue, however, emerged successful on appeal. The appeals court decided that Prue’s lawsuit was not based upon an FEHA violation claim but instead upon a violation of public policy as evidenced by the FEHA. The California Supreme Court decided back in 1980 that employees can sue their employers if the employer terminates that employee “in violation of fundamental public policy.” The enactment and the language of the FEHA clearly indicated a California public policy in opposition to workplace discrimination based upon disability, and, according to the court, that policy was substantial and fundamental.

Prue’s complaint, in the appeals court’s estimation, made out a valid potential case of disability discrimination. Prue suffered from a disability as a result of the musculoskeletal injury he suffered in the June 2011 accident. Even after his injuries, he remained capable of completing the required duties of his job. Prue suffered a negative employment action when Brady fired him, and Brady knew about Prue’s disability when it decided to terminate the employee. These elements were all that was needed to establish a viable disability discrimination claim.

Since Prue’s case was based upon a violation of public policy, not a FEHA violation, it was filed in time and not prohibited by the limitations period.

The court also rejected Brady’s argument that Prue should not be allowed to pursue his case because the workers’ compensation system was his sole legal avenue for recovery. A legal doctrine called “exclusive remedy” says that an employee who seeks recovery through filing a workers’ compensation claim cannot also file certain lawsuits against the employer. One type of claim covered by this exclusive remedy doctrine is claims brought under Cal. Labor Code Section 132a, which bars employers from firing employees for filing workers’ compensation claims. In Prue’s case, though, although he referred to Section 132a, he didn’t make a 132a claim. Section 132a was only mentioned as an alternative basis, beyond just the FEHA, for Prue’s position that California public policy prohibits the sort of discrimination Brady committed against him.

In Prue’s case, his attorneys were able to build a potential case around a legal claim that allowed two years for filing, instead of just one. Regardless of the correct limitations period that covers your case, if you’ve been wrongfully terminated or discriminated against because of a disability, it is important to seek out capable legal counsel right away. Talk to the Oakland employment law attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our employment law attorneys have many years of experience helping workers pursue discrimination and wrongful termination claims. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-2575 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Timing Proves Critical to Failure of Employer’s Defense in California Woman’s Pregnancy Discrimination Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Nov. 30, 2015

California Maintenance Worker with Bowel Disease Allowed to Sue for Disability Discrimination After Managed ‘Chilled’ Accommodation, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, April 15, 2015

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