Workers’ Compensation Retaliation – Templemire v. W&M Welding, Inc.

The workers’ compensation system is meant to provide financial assistance for injured workers without the possibility of employer retaliation. Specifically, workers who are injured at work have the right to file a claim for compensation without fearing that such an action will cost them their jobs.

Recently, however, the Supreme Court of Missouri modified this standard in favor of employees. To be sure, Missouri’s highest court reversed the ruling of a circuit court in favor of a discharged employee, instead claiming that his allegations of retaliation do, in fact, hold weight.

Specifics of the Case

The case, Templemire v. W&M Welding, Inc., involved a man, John Templemire, who worked as a painter and general laborer for W&M Welding, Inc. In early 2006, during the course of employment, a metal beam fell on Templemire’s foot, crushing it. He promptly reported this to his employer and successfully filed a workers’ compensation claim.

Later in the year, Templemire was assigned to light duty, and, while resting his foot, which had become infected, failed to complete a task assigned to him. When asked why this occurred, Templemire claimed he was planning on completing the task after his break; regardless, his employer terminated him on the spot.

Directly thereafter, Templemire filed a lawsuit against W&M under Section 287.780 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. This section provides that “no employer or agent shall discharge or in any way discriminate against any employee for exercising any of his rights under” workers’ compensation law. Here, Templemire claimed that his termination was directly related to his choice to file for workers’ compensation benefits.

Ruling of the Circuit Court

Unfortunately for Templemire, the jury ruled in favor of his employer, in part due to the instructions presented by the circuit court judge. During the trial, Templemire offered an instruction asking the jury to determine whether his workers’ compensation claim was at all a contributing factor to his termination. He also offered a second instruction claiming that if the jury could find that the stated reason for his termination (his failure to complete the task) was pretextual, they could find exclusive causation for his discharge, the required standard in Missouri.

The court refused these instructions, however, requesting the jury to decide whether or not Templemire’s claim for workers’ compensation was the exclusive cause for his termination.

On Appeal

After the jury’s ruling, Templemire appealed, and the case found its way in front of the Missouri Supreme Court. In the appeal, Templemire alleged that the circuit court acted improperly in refusing his instructions, and that the jury should have been advised to base their ruling on whether his termination was a “contributing factor” in his termination, rather than the “exclusive cause,” as Templemire originally requested which was submitted at trial. The Supreme Court sided with Templemire, and remanded the case back to trial based on this claim. Because of this ruling, the Supreme Court also determined there was no need to reach a decision on Templemire’s alternative request for instruction regarding pretext.

Effect on Workers’ Compensation Claims and Retaliation

How, then, will this case affect workers’ compensation claims and subsequent terminations in the future? Before this ruling, an employer could terminate an employee after filing a workers’ compensation claim, alleging that the claim for benefits was only a partially contributing factor, thus validating the employee’s discharge. Now, however, employers must disprove any relationship between the employee’s termination and the claim for workers’ compensation benefits; failure to do so may result in penalties incurred in a civil claim.

Of course, in order to recover compensation in such a claim, terminated employees must file a case in civil court. Those interested in doing so should reach out to an experienced Kansas City employment law attorney for representation, as well as for advice on how to proceed.