Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Published:09/30/2014

Templemire was a painter and general laborer employed by the Defendant. About a month after he suffered an injury for which he received workers’ compensation benefits, he returned to work with some restrictions. As result, Templemire was placed on “light duty” and was assigned to the tool room as an assistant. Although the two sides disagree as to what happened, on November 29, 2006, Templemire was instructed to wash a railing and paint it before it was to be picked up later in the afternoon. Templemire claims that he was not supposed to wash it until the afternoon, but his boss claims he was supposed to wash it as soon as he knew about it, which was in the morning. Templemire was fired, ostensibly for insubordination. Templemire claimed that he had been fired for filing a workers’ compensation claim.

After a trial in which the court refused to give an instruction offered by Templemire, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Employer. In essence, the trial court instructed the jury that, as required by § 287.780, the employer was only liable for wrongful discharge if the workers’ compensation claim of Templemire was the exclusive cause of Templemire’s termination.

The sole issue in this case was whether an action for wrongful discharge under § 287.780 can only be maintained if the filing of a workers’ compensation action is the exclusive reason for the discharge or whether some lesser standard applies.

The Missouri Supreme Court found that an action for wrongful discharge under § 287.780 only required that retaliation for the filing of a workers’ compensation claim be a contributing factor to the discharge, which overturned decisions dating back to the 1970s holding that workers’ compensation claim be the exclusive factor. This is a major departure from prior rulings, but does align with how the Court has interpreted employment cases under the Missouri Human Rights Act.

Section 287.780 prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee in any way for filing a workers’ compensation claim. The Court found that under both the liberal construction of chapter 287 prior to 2005 and the strict construction of the chapter since 2005, nothing in § 287.780 requires that the discrimination be the exclusive factor for the discharge or other discriminatory act. The words “exclusively,” “solely,” and “only” do not exist anywhere in the statute, and using strict construction, no meaning can be added to the words of the statute. The Court found the legislature was clear in that any consideration given to the fact an employee filed a workers’ compensation claim in employment decisions was inappropriate.

Although this alters decades of law and makes it easier to find that an employer discriminated against an employee, the true concern is what accommodations the Court would require an employer to provide to a worker. In other arenas of employment law, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to a disabled employee. After the Templemire decision, employers must be concerned with the extent that accommodations for medical issues could reach.