Case Law Update: Indiana Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Terminated Employee
On September 5, 2018, in the case Shackleford v. D&W Fine Pack, 18A-CT-489, the Indiana Court of Appeals, overturned the trial court that had granted summary judgment in favor of the employer. The trial court had determined that the employee (Shackleford) had failed to produce evidence of a retaliatory motive by the employer (D&W) and that the employee was unable to produce evidence calling into question the reason that the employer had given for terminating the employee. In this case, the employee had filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against his former employer because he believed he had been fired for getting injured on the job and seeking to exercise his rights to worker's compensation benefits.
|Fort Wayne Attorney Nathaniel Hubley|
On appeal, the employee pointed out that he had presented the trial court with direct and indirect evidence from which a trier-of-fact could infer that the employer's alleged reason for termination was pretext, a lie.
For example, as the employee pointed out: 1) D&W made inconsistent sworn statements regarding the decision makers involved in the termination, i.e., whether the H.R. Rep was a decision maker; 2) D&W made inconsistent sworn statements whether it had placed Shackleford on FMLA leave; and 3) D&W made inconsistent sworn statements whether it ever bothered to check if Shackleford was eligible for any type of leave prior to terminating him.
Additionally, the employee pointed out to the trial court other direct and/or indirect evidence from which a trier-of-fact could infer that the employer's alleged reason for termination was a lie including:
- D&W’s management’s attitude towards Shackleford changed for the worse after D&W learned Shackleford needed surgery in June 2014;
- a supervisor went from talking with Shackleford multiple times a day to completely ignoring him;
- a supervisor told Shackleford that he “f*cked up” by getting injured on the job and that he’d never be returned to his job;
- a supervisor forced Shackleford to do work outside of his restrictions resulting in Shackleford re-injuring his shoulder;
- a supervisor accused Shackleford of faking his injury;
- the employer issued three write ups on the same day to Shackleford shortly after his June 2014 surgery;
- Shackleford’s request for a second surgery was ignored by D&W;
- after pressing D&W about his need for a second surgery and shortly before he was terminated, Shackleford was told that he was “creating a hardship for the company” and that “[t]his is pretty much all I need to make up my decision [to terminate you]”; and
- shortly after firing him, D&W sent Shackleford a holiday card mocking him and calling him names.
The Court of Appeals concluded that there was sufficient evidence from which a jury could determine that the employer had retaliated against the employee because he got injured on the job and sought to exercise his rights to worker's compensation benefits.