The Court of Appeals Western District has asked the Missouri Supreme Court to decide whether an electrician can sue his former employer for not rehiring him after he filed a worker’s compensation claim.
In a June 7 opinion, the court tentatively held that a strict reading of state law does not allow a worker to sue for such an act of retaliation if it occurs after the employment relationship has ended. But, noting that it was an issue of first impression, Chief Judge Cynthia L. Martin transferred the case to the Supreme Court for a final ruling.
“The potential chilling effect of post-employment retaliation on a former employee’s willingness to exercise rights under the Worker’s Compensation Law presents an important policy concern,” she wrote. But, she added, allowing former employees to pursue those claims “could have a potential chilling effect on the former employer’s willingness and ability to defend worker’s compensation claims that are not filed, or that are not fully resolved, until after the employment relationship has ended.” Judge Janet Sutton and specially appointed Judge Gary Lynch of the Southern District concurred.
The case stems from John Lisle’s employment as a contractor for Meyer Electric Company. He was laid off in May 2018, which he alleged in a since-dismissed suit in Cole County Circuit Court was in retaliation for his intention to file a claim for a carpal tunnel injury.
Lisle later sought another job with Meyer Electric at a different site but wasn’t hired. In a separate suit filed in Jackson County Circuit Court, he alleged that the company rejected him in retaliation for his previous assertion of his workers’ compensation rights. The trial court ruled for the company.
The Western District agreed. Martin wrote that the statutory definitions of “employee” and “employer” were written in the present tense, which “strongly suggest that an existing employment relationship at the time of an alleged act of retaliatory discrimination is required in order to support a statutory claim,” particularly given the requirement that judges must strictly construe the provisions of the workers’ compensation law.
Ken Kinney of Ralston Kinney in Kansas City, an attorney for Lisle, didn’t return a call seeking comment. Glen Ehrhardt of Rogers, Ehrhardt, Weber & Howard in Columbia, an attorney for Meyer Electric, was out of the office and couldn’t be reached for comment.
The case is Lisle v. Meyer Electric Co. Inc., WD84620.