Massachusetts Court Discusses Shifting Burdens in Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Claims

The Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act) not only grants employees the right to recover benefits from their employers in the event they suffer harm in the workplace but also protects them from retaliation for exercising such rights. An employee that experiences adverse employment actions after filing a workers’ compensation claim may be able to recover additional damages, but only if they can demonstrate that the negative actions taken against them were retaliatory. Recently, a Massachusetts court discussed the shifting burdens of proof in workers’ compensation claims in a matter in which it ultimately denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. If your employer took action against you for filing a workers’ compensation claim, you may be owed compensation, and you should meet with a Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney to evaluate your rights.

Background of the Case

It is alleged that the plaintiff worked as the director of facilities at the defendant’s zoo. In January 2018, he terminated an associate as part of his duties. The associate subsequently assaulted the plaintiff, who developed PTSD after the incident. The plaintiff then sought and received workers’ compensation benefits.

Reportedly, the plaintiff suffered a work-related injury the following year and filed a second workers’ compensation claim. He later complained to a supervisor that he received harsher treatment than other employees, which he attributed in part to his pursuit of workers’ compensation benefits. He was terminated shortly thereafter. He then filed a lawsuit instituting numerous claims against the defendant, including a workers’ compensation retaliation claim. After discovery, the defendant moved for summary judgment.

Shifting Burdens in Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Claims

The court found in favor of the plaintiff with regard to the workers’ compensation retaliation claims and denied the defendant’s motion. In doing so, the court explained that absent direct evidence of workers’ compensation retaliation, a plaintiff must establish a prima facie case of retaliation. In other words, they must show that they engaged in legally protected conduct, the employer took adverse employment action against them, and the conduct and adverse action are related.

If an employee meets this burden, the employer must then offer a valid reason for the adverse action. The employee then has to show that the reason proffered by the employer is mere pretext. In the subject case, the court found that the plaintiff offered sufficient evidence to demonstrate that there was an issue of fact as to whether the adverse actions taken against him, including but not limited to his termination, were retaliatory. Thus, it denied the defendant’s motion.

Meet with an Experienced Massachusetts Attorney

Employers have an obligation to pay employees hurt at work workers’ compensation benefits, and they cannot take adverse action against them for pursuing such benefits. If you sustained injuries at work, you should meet with an attorney to discuss your options as soon as possible. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney with ample experience helping injured employees protect their interests, and if you hire him, he will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact Mr. Meehan by calling 508-822-6600 or via the form online to set up a meeting.