Massachusetts Court Explains Proof of Retaliatory Termination

Employees who sustain injuries in the workplace have the right to seek workers’ compensation benefits from their employers. Some employers will begrudgingly pay such benefits but then will retaliate against their employees for seeking such benefits. Employers who are terminated for seeking workers’ compensation benefits have a right to pursue additional claims against their employers, however. Recently, a Massachusetts court discussed what an employee must prove to recover damages for wrongful termination, in a case in which the plaintiff alleged he was fired for exercising his right to seek workers’ compensation benefits. If you were fired after being hurt at work, it is smart to speak to a Massachusetts workers’ compensation lawyer about your options for seeking redress.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that the plaintiffs worked for the defendants as corrections officers. In 2010, the administration of their department was transferred from the county to the Commonwealth. This resulted in the department receiving a charge for the cost of insurance for employees who were out on leave for more than a year.

Allegedly, as the cost of the insurance was not in the department’s budget, they terminated employees who were on leave for more than a year, including the plaintiffs. The letters the department sent to the plaintiffs stated that they were out on leave for more than a year and were receiving workers’ compensation benefits, and were unable to return to their prior positions.

Reportedly, the plaintiffs then filed a lawsuit against the department, alleging they were terminated for seeking and receiving workers’ compensation benefits in violation of the Massachusetts’ Workers’ Compensation Act (the Act). The department ultimately moved for summary judgment.

Proving Termination Was Retaliatory

A plaintiff pursuing damages for retaliatory discharge must make a prima facie showing that they engaged in an action that is protected by the Act and that the defendant was aware of such action. The plaintiff must also demonstrate that the defendant then took adverse employment action against the defendant and that it would not have taken such action had the plaintiff not engaged in the protected activity.

Here, the court noted that it was undisputed that the first three elements were met. The plaintiffs argued that the termination letters they received demonstrated that a triable issue of fact existed as to whether the fourth element was met because it stated that the plaintiffs’ receipt of workers’ compensation benefits was the reason for their termination.

The court disagreed, stating that the letters merely mentioned the benefits and stated that the plaintiffs’ inability to return to work was the reason for their termination. Thus, the court granted the department’s motion and dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims.

Speak to a Skilled Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Attorney

People who suffer injuries at work have the right to recover benefits without fear of retaliation, and if their employers violate their rights, they may be owed damages. If you were hurt while working and were subsequently fired, you should meet with an attorney to discuss your rights. James K. Meehan of the Law Office of James K. Meehan is a skilled workers’ compensation attorney who can assess the circumstances surrounding your termination and advise you of your potential claims. You can contact him via the form online or at 508-822-6600 to set up a conference.