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Home / Featured / Court says employer not liable for refusal to rehire worker

Court says employer not liable for refusal to rehire worker

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled on May 16 that an electrician cannot bring a retaliation suit against a company he alleges refused to rehire him after he filed a workers’ compensation claim against it.

John Lisle, a journeyman electrician who is part of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, had worked for Meyer Electric Company on a school in Chillicothe before he was terminated in 2018. He alleged he was fired shortly after he reported having work-related carpal tunnel syndrome. He later sued the company for wrongful discharge, though the suit has since been dismissed.

In 2019, Lisle applied to work on a different Meyer Electric project, but he was denied despite having a union referral. In a new suit, he alleged the company rejected him in retaliation for his work comp claim.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court agreed with a lower court in throwing out the case. Because he was not an employee of Meyer Electric when it chose not to hire him, Judge Patricia Breckenridge wrote for the court, he didn’t meet the statute’s requirements.

State law bars employers from firing or discriminating against any employee who exercises his or her rights under the state’s workers’ compensation laws. Breckenridge noted that the terms “employer” and “employee” are statutorily defined using the present tense, indicating that lawmakers had intended to restrict its protections to those employed at the time of the discrimination.

“As a policy matter, it may be reasonable to prohibit employers from discriminating against former employees for exercising workers’ compensation rights even after the employment relationship ends,” she wrote. “But the requirement in [the workers’ compensation statute] to strictly construe the provisions of chapter 287 governs.”

Breckenridge added that such a reading of the statute didn’t prevent former employees from bringing claims of wrongful discharge. The person’s employment status at the time of the discrimination is what matters, she said, not their status at the time the claim is filed. She noted Lisle’s own wrongful discharge claim against Meyer Electric and said “nothing in this opinion would have foreclosed his ability to maintain it simply because he was no longer employed when he brought the action.”

The case is Lisle v. Meyer Electric Company, SC99670.

RELATED: High court hears if former employee still has workers’ compensation rights

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